Governor Jay Nixon signed today two bills that supporters say will help victims, and some perpetrators, of sexual assault in Missouri.
One provision in those bills will allow the state Children’s Division to intervene in cases of a child sexually abusing another child. State law has only allowed the Division to investigate when an alleged perpetrator has care, custody or control of an alleged victim.
Senate sponsor Jeanie Riddle (R-Mokane) said that was a problem with state law that many lawmakers and average Missourians didn’t realize existed.
“People filled out the paperwork and did what they were supposed to do according to statute, but what we didn’t have in place was the ability to go in and do an assessment and offer the family some help,” said Riddle.
She and other supporters said treatment of children who commit sexual abuse is far more effective than treatment of adults who commit such acts.
“What they found is if you can help the families that have these situations going on then we have children that grow up and are productive citizens in the community and they don’t have to grow up to be sexual predators if there’s intervention, and there wasn’t the ability to do that before.”
Another provision in the two bills will allow victims of sexual assault to seek orders of protection. Senator Dan Hegeman (R-Cosby) said that was another hole in Missouri law that many did not know about.
“Many of us thought that would have been available years ago, and so it was a pretty easy sell in the General Assembly, passing both the Senate and the House without any opposition,” said Hegeman. “I look at the situation and just think if I had somebody who I knew or was related to me that would find themselves in the situation of sexual assault, I certainly would want that tool available to provide some protection for my loved ones and my friends and neighbors.”
Another provision in Riddle’s bill would require licensed child care centers in Missouri to have sleep policies based on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It would ban those centers leaving blankets, crib bumpers, pillows, soft bedding, stuffed animals, and other items that could contribute to suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome, in cribs with children under 1.
Her bill also requires that all public and charter schools clearly post signs in English and Spanish about the toll-free child abuse and neglect hotline, and requires that the state Children’s Division develop an acronym to help children remember the hotline number.
Another provision requires private, public, and parochial day care centers, preschools, and nurseries to notify parents or guardians, upon request, if children enrolled with them have not been immunized. Riddle says the law would not single out any child that is not immunized, but would allow the care center to acknowledge if a child enrolled there has an immunization exemption on file.
Both bills were supported by groups including Missouri Kids First. Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof called the language dealing with children being abused by other children the most important issue she’s worked with the legislature on.
“It’s, for me, very fulfilling to be a part of making these changes for our state, and of course there are so many people that helped out with it and so many people that touched this bill,” van Schenkhof told Missourinet. “It’s really gratifying to be a part of it all.”