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Child sexual abuse statutes

Child sexual abuse statutes The premise is that policies, programs, and statutes of child sexual abuse (or society’s response to child sexual abuse) are grounded within the historical and often myth-bound conceptualization of child sexual abuse. The purpose of the previous section was to show that the outcomes of these policies, programs, and statutes are indeed bound within assumptions of this historical conceptualization of child sexual abuse. The purpose of this section is to consider how these policies, programs, and statutes reflect these biases. The specific question asked in this section is whether biases are reflected in the actual statutes regarding child sexual abuse or whether they occur in the implementation of these statutes. Both federal and state laws are in place for the identification of child sexual abuse. At the federal level, the most pertinent statute is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), originally passed by Congress in 1974 and most recently amended in 1996 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Among its many provisions, it provides grants “for purposes of assisting the States in improving the child protective services system of each State” (42 U.S.C. § 5106a). To be eligible for these grants, states have a number of eligibility requirements, including established procedures for: reporting known instances of child abuse and neglect; screening, safety assessment, and prompt investigation of reports; and protecting the safety of children. Importantly, only one of these eligibility requirements even tangentially recognizes abuse by caregivers. This requirement requires “procedures for immediate steps to be taken to ensure and protect the safety of the abused or neglected child and of any other child under the same care who may also be in danger” (42 U.S.C. § 5106a). Thus, CAPTA reflects criteria for protecting children of all types of abuse or neglect. The other important contribution at the federal level is found embedded within specific court cases. In several cases, federal courts have ruled that “parents and children have a ‘right’ to family autonomy, privacy, or integrity,” a right that can only be usurped with “‘compelling state interest,’ such as the need to protect children from significant harm” (Bulkley, Feller, Stem, & Roe, 1996, p. 272). Thus, the federal government: (a) requires states to adequately identify, assess, and protect children; and (b) recognizes the rights of families. At the level of the state, two types of laws have been enacted. First, all states have laws that make sexual abuse a crime, although the definition of abuse varies by state (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000a). In addition, 47 states have laws specifically prohibiting incest (National Victim Center, 1995). Thus, most states view incest (often including abuse by any related or unrelated caregiver) as qualitatively different than abuse by a noncaregiver. Second, states have laws requiring individuals to report suspected cases of child sexual abuse. In all states, reporting laws apply to both intrafamilial and extrafamilial abuse (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000b), although states differ on who is considered a mandated reporter (Bulkley et al., 1996). Further, states differ on whether child protective services is mandated to investigate all types of abuse or only abuse by caregivers. A review of state statutes indicates that about 80% of states have laws charging their child protective services agencies with investigating all types of abuse (US. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000a). In the other states, law enforcement is charged with the responsibility of investigating abuse by noncaregivers. Two points can be made regarding reporting statutes. First, while CAPTA requires all states to have procedures for protecting children, about 20% of states have enacted not only differential, but probably unequal, access to resources based upon the type of abuse. Even though states are currently overwhelmed with reports of suspected abuse, many state budgets for child protection have been cut in recent years, suggesting scarce resources. In those states that route only abuse by caregivers through child protective services, it seems likely that victims of other types of abuse do not have equal access to screening, safety assessment, prompt investigation of reports, and procedures for protecting the safety of children. Yet all are stipulations of CAPTA. Second, child protective services agencies in states requiring all types of abuse to be reported to child protective services also likely prioritize abuse by caregivers. If victims of abuse by noncaregivers did have equal access to resources, the columns in Table 12-1 regarding the proportion of intrafamilial abuse to extrafamilial abuse would have more similarities than differences. The sharp discrepancies between data in these columns instead suggest unequal access to resources. Thus, reports of extrafamilial abuse, which are not prioritized, are also more easily overlooked. In summary, all states have laws making both intrafamilial and extrafamilial abuse a crime and require mandated reporters to report all types of suspected abuse. Further, approximately 80% of states have laws that do not limit the type of abuse child protective services is mandated to investigate. Yet, national incidence studies suggest that intrafamilial abuse is disproportionately represented in populations of identified victims, leading to the conclusion that state laws are not being properly implemented. Thus, while statutes are in accordance with CAPTA guidelines, their implementation across states is not in accordance.

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