ICYMI – Senate passes bipartisan child sex abuse prevention bill introduced by Texas Sen. Cornyn
The bill is modeled after a Texas law named for Jenna Quinn, who praised the passage, saying “the message for survivors is that you’re seen, and you are heard.”
By Elizabeth Thompson
Sep 18, 2020
(As published by the Dallas Morning News)
A bipartisan child sexual assault bill introduced by Republican Sen. John Cornyn and co-sponsored by New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is a step closer to becoming law after passing the Senate Thursday.
The Jenna Quinn Law, which is modeled on a law of the same name that has already been in effect in Texas for over 10 years, would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to require training for teachers, students, caregivers and other adults who work with children in professional or volunteer settings on how to identify and report child sexual abuse. It passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent.
The bill still has to pass through the House of Representatives and signed President Donald Trump before becoming law. Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator, urged his congressional colleagues in the House to pass the bill before their recess in early October.
“The success of Jenna’s Law in Texas has shown that training teachers, caregivers, and students on how to recognize and report child sexual abuse saves lives, but many states do not have programs like this in place,” Cornyn said in a press release Friday. “I’m proud to bring the Jenna Quinn Law to the national level and urge my colleagues in the House to quickly pass it to protect the lives of vulnerable children.”
Child sexual abuse has long been called America’s “silent epidemic.” More than half of sexual assaults happen within one mile of the victim’s home and 90% of child sex abuse victims know their abuser, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
The bill is named after Texan Jenna Quinn, who was abused by her father’s best friend starting when she was 13, according to the article published in 2004 by The Dallas Morning News, which can be found in The Dallas Morning News Archives. Quinn later said that article gave her the power to speak out as a “victor and not a victim,” according to her website.
Cornyn held a virtual news conference with Quinn on Friday to talk about the bill’s passage, where they addressed where funding would come from and the decrease in child sex abuse reporting since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since Jenna’s Law was passed in Texas in 2009, 21 states other have passed other legislation mandating sexual abuse training in schools, and ten states have allowed or recommended training, according to Massachusetts Citizens for Children. The bill would make training and education a national priority.
“Only about half the states have adopted some form of Jenna’s Law,” Cornyn said, “and even then, many states with these laws, including Texas, don’t have adequate funding for this training, and that’s what will change with the passage of the Jenna Quinn Law.”
In order to make sure schools have the funds they need for these trainings, the Jenna Quinn Law will use grant appropriations from the Department of Justice. Similar grant appropriations have been made for active shooter training, Cornyn said.
School personnel already identify 52% of child abuse, and with proper training and education, even more cases might be reported, experts say. In Texas, teacher reports of child abuse increase 283% the year after training due to Jenna’s law, according to a survey performed by Darkness to Light, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse.
But with the coronavirus pandemic causing schools to go online, it is more difficult for school professionals to recognize the warning signs of child abuse, Quinn said. As a result, fewer cases of abuse are being reported. In North Texas, reports of child abuse and neglect were down 43%.
Cornyn said this was another reason for children to go back to school in person “when it’s safe to do so.” Jenna’s Law is supported by the National Children’s Alliance and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“There are so many survivors out there that are fighting for this that are wanting to see this but didn’t get those opportunities in school,” Quinn said. “They didn’t get that education, and they ended up waiting years to tell as well. And so the message for survivors is that you’re seen, and you are heard. And there are good senators out there just like Sen. Cornyn that are fighting for us and Sen. Hassan in New Hampshire that are fighting to bring this darkness to light.