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Senator Coons wins fight to save advocacy centers for victims of child abuse

Victims of Child Abuse Act reauthorization now heads to President for signature

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives unanimously approved U.S. Senator Chris Coons’ bipartisan legislation Monday to reauthorize the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA), which provides funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers that serve child abuse victims and help law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable. S.1799, the VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013, was cosponsored by Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), co-chair with Senator Coons of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, and Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill will now head to the President for signature.

Though the success of these federal-state and public-private partnerships has earned them broad bipartisan support, congressional authorization for Children’s Advocacy Centers lapsed in 2005, and the President’s last three proposed budgets have either zeroed out or significantly cut federal funding. The VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 reauthorizes the program through FY 2018 and enacts reforms to strengthen accountability provisions and improve oversight.

“We have no greater obligation than to protect our children from trauma and abuse,” Senator Coons said. “When the unthinkable happens, Children’s Advocacy Centers are there to help families heal and obtain justice for victims. These centers have transformed our nation's response to child abuse by giving law enforcement the tools to secure critical evidence without re-traumatizing child victims. The unanimous passage of this bill by both houses is a victory for Delaware’s three Children’s Advocacy Centers and a testament to the important role these centers play in communities all across the country. Our children’s needs transcend party politics, and I’m grateful to my partners on both sides of the aisle for working with me to pass this vital bill.” 

The legislation adopted by the House on Monday passed the Senate unanimously last month. The bill authorizes funding for the program at $20 million per year, consistent with the most recent authorization level and $1 million above the current fiscal year’s appropriation. The reauthorization bill will also strengthen Victims of Child Abuse Act programs through enhanced accountability provisions, non-profit requirements, and limitations on conference expenditures.

“I am truly elated that the House of Representatives passed the VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013,” saidRandall E. Williams, Executive Director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Delaware, Inc. “It is gratifying to know that our senators and representatives understand and value the services provided to child victims of abuse across the country by Children’s Advocacy Centers and our Multidisciplinary Team Partners. Passage of the Act helps ensure that Children’s Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams will be able to continue to provide the very best services available to child victims of sexual and physical abuse. They deserve no less from us.” 

"Nothing is more important than protecting children," said Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. "Children’s Advocacy Centers are on the front lines in the fight against predators. This funding will make our children safer." 

Children’s Advocacy Centers employ a multi-disciplinary team of trained professionals to conduct forensic interviews of children who have been victims of abuse. These interviews are designed to be admissible in court, preventing children from being re-traumatized by having to tell their stories multiple times. In 2013 alone, nearly 300,000 children were served at over 800 Children’s Advocacy Centers across the United States, with over 200,000 cases reporting sexual abuse. Their use in child abuse cases saved, on average, more than $1,000 per case in court, child protection, and investigative fees.

In addition to Senators Coons, Blunt, Sessions, and Hirono, the VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013 was cosponsored by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Schumer (D - N.Y.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The following organizations have endorsed the VOCAA Reauthorization Act of 2013: National Association of Police Organizations, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, National Criminal Justice Training Center, Major Cities Chiefs’ Association, National Children’s Alliance, National Children’s Advocacy Center, National Center for Victims of Crime, Sergeants Benevolent Association of the New York City Police Department, and the National Child Protection Training Center.