December 9, 2013
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, we all agree that child abuse is a horrific problem, and the abuse of Kilah Davenport is a tragedy. We must take appropriate steps to try to prevent such future tragedies.

Child abuse is a widespread problem. In 2011, approximately 681,000 children were victims of maltreatment, and approximately 3.3 million children received preventative services from Child Protective Services agencies in the United States. Furthermore, nearly five children die every day in America from abuse and neglect, and more than 78 percent of reported child fatalities as a result of abuse and neglect were caused by one or more of the child victim's parents.

In addition to harming children directly, child abuse contributes to future crime.

Children who experience child abuse and neglect are about 9 times more likely to become involved in criminal activity. We should therefore get serious about reducing child abuse by enacting the type of meaningful legislation proven to actually reduce child abuse--and save money in the process--like nurse family partnerships.

Nurse family partnerships are an evidence-based community health program that provide home visits from registered nurses to low-income, first-time moms from pregnancy until the child turns two years old. In medical and scientific journals, nurse family partnerships are most often cited as the most effective intervention to prevent child abuse and neglect.

The approach of H.R. 3627 is to allow sentences of up to 10 years for those convicted for the third time for domestic abuse which, with this bill, will include child abuse. But it only applies to those offenses committed in national parks, military bases, Indian country, and on other federal land.

So of all of the cases of child abuse committed nationally, this bill unfortunately reaches only a negligible portion of the cases--those committed on federal land by people with two prior offenses.

Moreover, I am concerned that by increasing the penalties for third offenses, this bill implies that federal judges don't know what to do with a defendant convicted for a third time of these heinous offenses.

As I have described, child abuse is a serious problem, and in order to determine the appropriateness of expanding federal laws, we should have had a hearing on this issue, which we did not. We have received no evidence suggesting that federal judges impose such sentences on these third-time offenders that they keep getting out of prison and committing child abuse again.

The reason the bill before us today can only apply to federal lands is because we do not have jurisdiction over local crimes. The issue of child abuse is traditionally a matter for the states, and therefore this issue might have been best, first considered by the over-criminalization task force.
If our goal is to actually reduce the ravages of child abuse, we should not limit our efforts to the negligible number of prosecutable cases involving third offenses on federal lands.

I say prosecutable because most child abuse is not reported at all, and many chases that are reported are difficult to prosecute because family members may be unwilling to testify against one another. In fact, we have received no evidence that this bill would have even applied to the Kilah Davenport case, which does not appear to have occurred on federal land or have been committed by a third-time offender.

We need to focus federal efforts on supporting programs which will prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.

H.R. 3627 does, however, include a worthwhile provision that requires the Attorney General to issue a report outlining the child abuse laws in the 50 states. The states can then review their statutes to see how they compare to other states and decide if their state laws need to be amended.

I agree with the desire to do more to protect our children from such tragic victimization, and we should work together to reduce child abuse. However, I think there are better ways to do it.