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More work needed to protect children from sexual predators

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When Gov. Doug Ducey signed the Child Protection Act in May, he called it a “significant and critical first step.” He’s right about that. The law is a significant improvement in the previous legal landscape that had made Arizona a safe haven for child abusers. But it is just a first step.

We now have the opportunity to take the next steps to stop child sexual abuse. The Justice for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse Task Force, which met on Sept. 5 for the first time, will compile its findings and recommendations. The work of this task force will show if those who voted for this law and claim to want to end this scourge are serious or not.

Paul Boyer

Paul Boyer

Reviewing where we were just a few months ago, Arizona had one of the nation’s worst statute of limitations on the books when it came to child sexual abuse. If a victim wanted to bring his or her abuser to justice, he or she had just two years after becoming an adult to do so. It was like handing child sex predators, and any institution that covered up for their despicable acts, a free pass. All they had to do was run out this incredibly short clock and they would be scot-free.

The new Arizona Child Protection Act allows victims to file civil suits until age 30, giving them more time to come to terms with the abuse they suffered. It also opens up a “look back” period until December 31, 2020 allowing those shut out by the law’s previous limitations. We’ve given survivors the chance to seek justice and hold their abusers accountable. And we sent a powerful message to predators and any institution that covers up their crimes.

There’s no doubt these are big victories for children, and for law and order. But as good as it is, Arizona’s new law doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Several states, for example, enacted laws last year that extend their statutes of limitations well beyond Arizona’s age 30. In Texas, it’s 48, Connecticut, 51, and Rhode Island, 53. In New York and New Jersey, victims can even file civil suits until age 55.[1]

Why have those states set the cut off age well past Arizona’s? Because research shows that survivors often take that long before they’re willing to come forward. About one-third of victims come forward before adulthood. Another third, however, don’t report their abuse until much later in life – the median age for this group is 52. The rest never come forward at all. So, while extending the deadline to age 30 is good, it means that many Arizonans still won’t benefit.

The more survivors are given the opportunity to come forward, the more predators we can hold accountable, and the more children we will protect. It’s as simple as that.

Arizona must also go further when it comes to prevention training. For the sake of our children, we must devote as much energy to preventing abuse as we do to catching predators.

Yet while laws in 26 states require them to study or develop age appropriate identification and prevention classes, Arizona isn’t one of them. Arizona must be a leader, not a laggard, on prevention efforts.

The same goes for survivor support programs. Beyond the immediate needs of abuse survivors and their families, there are longer-term needs. Child abuse survivors suffer a range of maladies later in life from higher rates of depression, substance abuse, health problems, and more.

Child sex abuse isn’t just an issue of law and order. It’s also about economics. A study published last year found that when you add together the cost of health care, counseling services, criminal justice costs, productivity losses and other costs stemming from child sexual abuse, on average it can cost $280,000 per female victim and $75,000 per male victim.  This cost the United States billions annually and is largely born by the taxpayer.[2]

Imagine the possibilities if we could stop or limit this type of abuse. Stopping the silence and passing the Child Protection Act was a significant first step, one we should all celebrate. But we’re not done. Not by a long shot.

State Sen. Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) is co-chair of the Justice for Victims of Child Sex Abuse Task Force.

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