Kylie Hunter

On January 29, the Committee for Children, Futures Without Violence, and the National Children’s Alliance held a congressional briefing to discuss strategies to prevent child sexual abuse. Panelist consisted of Delegate C.T. Wilson, Maryland; Deborah Chosewood, Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services; Dr. James Mercy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, the Moore Center for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse–Johns Hopkins; and moderator Joan Duffell, Committee for Children.

The briefing described the need to more effectively address the reality of child sexual abuse and asked Congress to provide an additional $10 million to the CDC for research on child sexual abuse and strategies to prevent it.

Delegate C.T. Wilson opened the discussion by disclosing his personal experience as a victim of child sexual abuse. Due to a parent’s addiction, he was removed from his home as a child and spent some time bouncing around the child welfare system. Wilson was told he was one of the lucky ones because someone was going to adopt him. As it turned out, his adoptive father was a pedophile who spent days, months and years sexually abusing him between the ages of 9-15. Delegate Wilson spoke on the level of confusion he felt as a young boy, whether his father was doing these acts out of love and affection or if they were abusive. As he grew older, he realized the grim truth of the matter and suffered the effects every day. Delegate Wilson works on behalf of the people of the 18th District of Maryland, Charles County, and is a champion and advocate of ending child sexual assault in the Maryland Legislature.

Deborah Chosewood emphasized how Georgia has a high rate of human trafficking among all 50 states and that in 2018, there were 2900 reports of child sexual abuse and 728 substantiated cases. Chosewood discussed how part of the Georgia response was the July 1, 2018, implementation of “Erin’s Law” that requires public schools to provide annual sexual abuse awareness and training to students, K-12, and staff. Chosewood painted a picture of the distress districts across the state are facing, as they have this new mandate but no funding for it. She expressed a need for research and an evidence-base for these trainings so that funders know they are effective. With federal funding focused on preventing child sexual abuse, navigating the new amendment would become a lot easier in her home state.

Dr. James Mercy, from the CDC, began by asking the audience to imagine a “what if.” He said what if we had a disease that affected one in four girls and one in ten boys at some point during their childhood. This disease would increase the risks of mental health disorders, infectious diseases, chronic diseases, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, unemployment, and many more unfavorable things. This “what if disease” he was talking about is child sexual abuse. His view is that the funding of preventative measures is essentially a “one-stop-shop” in decreasing the number of public health issues citizens are facing. The need and opportunity for data for research and monitoring are crucial for the prevention of child sexual abuse, stated Dr. Mercy including data on adult sexual interest in and behavior with children and data on sexual trafficking.