More than 70,000 children in Kentucky last year met criteria that warranted abuse investigations from child protective services. Many of them have to relive what they went through in court without a guarantee their abuser will be convicted.
Kentucky Senate Bill 60 aims to make a child's generalized testimony count when they've experienced ongoing abuse over time. The law would allow victims to testify about the ongoing conduct instead of having to detail every specific incident like they have to do now.
Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center legal advocate Grace Stewart says the current law can kind of make child abusers untouchable.
“If the child cannot say it happened on April the 4th of 2016, currently, they wouldn't be able to prosecute that case,” Stewart said.
She says children typically develop knowing what happens before they can articulate when it happened.
“It's very difficult. A lot of people don't think that a 5-year-old or 5-year-old would have to go into court in front of their perpetrator and say what happened, but that's what the law requires,” Stewart said.
The new law would only require a time frame of a month or season and, as long as each juror could distinguish two acts that occurred within that time, prosecution could move forward.
As Paducah's Child Watch Counseling and Advocacy Center Board President, Sandra Cargill knows child abuse comes in many forms.
“When you starve children, when you beat them, when you burn them, when you expose them to witness homicides,” Cargill said.
She said she is happy lawmakers recognized a problem in the court process and are fixing it through SB 60.
She encourages anyone interested in helping abused children to join the Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASA program. For more information about it click here.
April is also child abuse prevention month. Cargill described several ways you can detect child abuse.
“It can be manifested in so many, many different ways and symptoms. I think our school systems, teachers are now more aware of being on lookout for things that might be happening in a child's life that affects their education,” Cargill said.
Here are some signs of abuse to look out for: behavior changes, acting out, fear, or anxiety about going home or to certain places. You can also lookout for unexplained injures or children having trouble sitting or walking.
If you suspect child abuse, call your local law enforcement or child protective services. You can also call the National Child Abuse hotline at 1-800-4-a-child ().
The Child Watch Counseling and Advocacy Center Executive Director Lee Emmons could not talk on camera Monday, but sent us this statement in regard to SB 60 heading to the governor's desk.
"Senate Bill 60 will give prosecutors another tool in bringing charges against child abusers. It takes a great deal of bravery for a child who has been abused to come forward, and it is often difficult or impossible for a child to know the specific dates that abuse occurred, making it more difficult to establish proof of the abuse. However, the continuous course of conduct provision in SB 60 will make it possible to establish the fact that abuse occurred over a period of time, without expecting a child to remember specific dates. This is more fair for the child victim and increases the likelihood that cases of abuse will be prosecuted and abusers will be appropriately punished. We applaud the Kentucky legislature for passing this bill."
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