Delaware State Senate sends a clear message: Child predators and enablers not welcome in Delaware
April 4, 2007 (Dover) — The Delaware State Senate spoke up for children and victims of child sexual abuse with a chorus of emphatic “yes” votes on Senate Bill 29, the Child Victim’s Act. The Senate chamber and gallery were both filled to capacity by more than 125 supporters of the bill. After considering over three hours of riveting testimony from the bill’s author, Senator Karen Peterson, as well as child sexual abuse victims, constitutional law expert Marci Hamilton, canon lawyer and Catholic priest Rev. Thomas Doyle, psychiatrist Dr. Carol Tavani and others, the senators voted overwhelmingly to pass the Child Victim’s Act without amendment. The vote was 19-0 with two senators absent.
In a dramatic and telling moment near the end of the debate, State Senator John Still (R-Dover North), said that he had been sexually abused by a family friend when he was just 6 years old. Still had not previously disclosed this fact in a public forum. The statistics on child sex abuse — that 1 in 5 children is sexually abused before the age of 18 — indicate that among the 21 state senators, four are likely to have been abused. Many Delawareans in attendance and a number of Still’s legislative colleagues were weeping after the former Senate minority leader made the admission. Many offered thanks and support for Still. Theresa Conaty of Wilmington summed up the feelings of many in attendance when she said, “I admire Senator Still’s candor and bravery today. In fact, all of the sexual abuse victims who testified or simply came here to Dover are truly heroic. They are survivors of something so dark and insidious that it rarely surfaces as public information. Sadly, perpetrators count on fear, shame and secrecy to keep their victims silent far beyond our tragically inadequate statute of limitations.”
Former Wilmington resident, Kelly Huston, a pediatric trauma nurse at The Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, said “Most children don’t tell even if they have been asked [about sexual abuse].” According to Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit group, “Evidence that a child has been sexually abused is not always obvious, and many children do not report that they have been abused. Some young victims may not recognize their victimization as sexual abuse. Almost 80% initially deny abuse or are tentative in disclosing.”
The national numbers on child sexual abuse are staggering. Tammy Lerner of the Foundation To Abolish Sex Abuse, Inc., stated that “sexual abuse of children is a public health epidemic in the United States.” According to Valerie Marek of SOAR, inc. there are a minimum of 200,000 victims of sexual abuse in Delaware alone.
As law, SB 29 will expose predators and protect children. Constitutional law expert Marci Hamilton explained that, if passed without amendment, the bill simply “opens the courtroom doors” to give victims their day in court. All the rules of evidence remain intact. The burden of proof remains on the accuser. It is a fair bill. It is a strong bill. Delaware children must be protected. Victims must have chance to tell the truth in a court of law.
The Delaware House of Representatives will now consider the bill after a two-week break.
According a Beth Miller article in The News Journal (published 4/5/2007), Still feels the Senate did the best it could with the bill. “The bill will give [victims] recourse,” Still said. Miller quoted Representative Deborah Hudson, (R-Fairthorne), who is the sponsor who will control the bill the House, “I’m ready to go for a unanimous vote in the House, too.”
Up-to-date information about the status of the legislation will be available on http://www.childvictimsvoice.com. For a current list of members of the Coalition to Pass the Child Victim’s Act and legislative sponsors of the bill, please visit http://www.childvictimsvoice.com/supports.html.