A state Senate committee has been told there are many cases of child sexual abuse happening in Missouri that state law doesn’t stop because the abusers are other children.
“A gap exists in the system for reporting and assessing situations where juveniles are sexually abusing other juveniles,” said Senator Jeanie Riddle, sponsor of Senate Bill 341.
That “gap” is when one child abuses another child in Missouri, the state Children’s Division cannot investigate because the alleged perpetrator does not have the care, custody or control of the alleged victim — the statutory requirements a situation must meet for the Division to investigate or provide services to families.
“Often times when a law enforcement officer gets a report of a youth with problem sexual behavior, for instance a nine-year-old that is perpetrating sexual abuse on a four-year-old, there’s not a lot they’re going to do with that because that nine-year-old really doesn’t have criminal culpability,” said Emily van Schenkhof, deputy director of Missouri KidsFirst. “Sometimes you can make a referral to the juvenile office but the juvenile office is not an investigator … so what you have is everybody is sort of pointing the finger at somebody else saying, ‘It’s your job to do it.'”
“I have heard so many stories of children that are left in awful situations where they continue to be repeatedly molested … and there’s nothing we can do,” said van Schenkhof. “This bill gives Children’s Division that ability to intervene, to start providing assessment, to provide services to the family, to talk to the family about supervision, to provide referrals to community resources that can address these juveniles, to make safety plans so that the children do not have to interact with each other any more.”
Van Schenkhof explained that the inability to address problem sexual behavior in children means treatment doesn’t happen when it could be the most effective.
“Youth with problem sexual behaviors and young people who commit sex offenses against other children have tremendous rehabilitative potential,” said van Schenkhof. “All of the research suggests that if you intervene early with these kids, they do not have to go on a life trajectory where they become a sexual offender.”
Van Schenkhof calls the legislation not just her top priority for the year, but the most important bill she’s ever worked on.
“This is the bill that I believe has the most potential to change lives in the State of Missouri and to really do a better job of meeting the needs of our children,” she told the committee, but she also said it is only a first step.
“I plan to continue to talk about youth with problem sexual behavior for the next five to 10 years, until we make incremental progress every year in this building at doing a better job of intervening early with these kids that are perpetrating these behaviors so that they don’t create so much harm throughout their life,” van Schenkhof said.