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Senator Coons introduces bipartisan legislation to improve FBI child victim protocols

Government and Politics

September 24, 2022


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) yesterday introduced the Respect for Child Survivors Act, which would improve the treatment of FBI child victims and witnesses by requiring trauma-informed experts to be a part of any interview of a victim who reports child abuse or trafficking to the FBI. Senator Coons is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We must provide investigators of child abuse and sexual exploitation with the tools and training to interact sensitively with survivors and witnesses,” said Senator Coons. “We’ve seen the tragic consequences of mishandled victim interviews that can resurface the trauma of abuse for survivors of these crimes. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation requires the FBI to use multidisciplinary teams of trained professionals in the course of such investigations to ensure the pursuit of justice does not inadvertently cause more harm to the very people the system is trying to protect.”

“It takes tremendous courage for young victims of sexual assault to tell their story and overcome the fear that they may not be taken seriously, may be ignored, or may be wrongfully blamed,” said Senator Cornyn. “To avoid re-traumatizing victims during the investigation process, it’s imperative we give these individuals the support they need to ensure survivors feel respected during the interview process and abusers are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“I applaud Senator Cornyn’s leadership on this issue to correct an egregious wrong committed by certain FBI agents regarding their treatment of victims of sexual abuse,” said Senator Graham. “Requiring the FBI to use appropriate, tried and true methods to interview child victims will help ensure the FBI’s failure in the Nassar case doesn’t happen again. This legislation will make it clear that we expect better.”

“As we work to support survivors of child sexual abuse and trafficking, we need to provide law enforcement with the training and skills they need to investigate these crimes and help victims,” said Senator Klobuchar. “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure law enforcement officers can partner with child advocacy centers to use the most effective techniques when conducting these critical investigations.”

Background:

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation last year, retired gymnast and survivor McKayla Maroney shared striking testimony about how she was treated by the FBI personnel who interviewed her. This legislation was formulated with input from child welfare groups to address the mistreatment of witnesses like Maroney and others described during that hearing.

Under this legislation, victims would be interviewed by those with the expertise to appropriately address and treat their trauma. This bill would require the FBI to use multidisciplinary teams when investigating child sexual abuse cases, child sexual abuse material cases, and child trafficking cases, including in situations where the interviewed victim is no longer a child. These multidisciplinary teams would be composed of appropriate investigative personnel, mental health professionals, medical personnel, family advocacy case workers, child advocacy center personnel, and prosecutors. Members of these teams have expertise in their field, can provide trauma-informed care, and are required to stay current on industry training.

The use of multidisciplinary teams is proven to prevent retraumatizing victims, and the information-sharing and case review provisions would ensure accountability so cases are not dropped or forgotten in the future. Investigations would be reviewed by a multidisciplinary team at regularly scheduled times to share information about case progress, address any investigative or prosecutorial barriers, and ensure victims receive support and needed treatment.

The bill encourages the FBI to work with multidisciplinary teams at existing Children’s Advocacy Centers, which are funded and authorized by the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA). Senator Coons has worked twice to successfully lead the reauthorization of this critical VOCAA funding, and he has recently introduced a bill to further extend VOCAA programs through fiscal year 2028.

The Respect for Child Survivors Act is supported by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network; the National District Attorneys Association; Army of Survivors; and the National Children’s Alliance.