Local lawmakers introduce bill for child sexual abuse task force

Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, and Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, are sponsoring a bill that would create a task force on preventing sexual abuse of children and reporting recommendations for legislation.

Senate Bill 2342 was introduced by Grabinger and had a hearing in the Human Services Committee on Jan. 30. No vote or other action has been taken since.

The task force would gather information concerning child sexual abuse throughout the state, receive testimony and reports from individuals, state and local agencies and organizations, and create goals for state policy that would prevent child sexual abuse during the 2017-2018 interim period. The task force would submit a final report with recommendations to the governor and legislative management, which is a group of legislators who determine interim studies and committee memberships.

Satrom said the idea for the bill came from the Rev. Shawn Bowman, senior pastor at Victory Lutheran Church in Jamestown, who called Satrom after seeing a news show about child abuse and said something should be done.

Satrom said he did some research and found that children are prepared for earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, “stranger danger” and other scenarios, but not taught in school how to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

Approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18, according to the National Sex Offender Public Registry website.

According to data from the North Dakota Department of Human Services, there were 1,760 children confirmed who were abused or neglected by the state’s child welfare system in 2015, and 66 of those were victims of sexual abuse.

This does not include data from tribal child welfare systems or the law enforcement system. The data includes cases that involve a person responsible for a child’s welfare, including parents, family members, members of the child’s household, teachers, guardians or care provider in a school or child care setting. Other cases are referred to law enforcement and are not in the department’s system.

Marlys Baker, the administrator of child protection services for the Department of Human Services, said in an email that coordinating efforts and resources are important to prevent child sexual abuse.

“The Department of Human Services has worked with many partners across systems and professional disciplines since 1986 to strengthen prevention efforts and the systems that respond to child sexual abuse, and will continue to do so,” Baker said.

Child sexual abuse is something the state should have a discussion about and create solutions to curb the problem, and that’s what the task force is designed to do, Grabinger said. Unfortunately, the task force probably wouldn’t be able to get rid of the problem entirely, but would help curb it, he said.

The task force would consist of four members of the state Legislature, four members of the public appointed by Senate and House leaders, the director of the Department of Human Services or a designee, the superintendent of public instruction or a designee, a law enforcement representative as well as representatives of related agencies and organizations.

Grabinger said the bill may be amended to change the requirements of the people who would make up the task force. There wasn’t any opposition to the bill, just the one change, and he is expecting the committee to vote soon, he said

“The real hope is to come up with suggestions and solutions to a serious problem,” Grabinger said.

The task force will assess the problem and make recommendations about age-appropriate curriculum to be used, Satrom said. He hopes something can be implemented for public and private schools and be a resource for parents.

“I hope we can pattern something that’ll work and make a difference in people’s futures,” Satrom said.

The bill lists recommendations the task force may make, including proposals for methods to foster cooperation among state agencies and between local and state governments in adopting and implementing a policy addressing sexual abuse of children.

The policy may include curriculum for students, training for school personnel, educational information for parents and guardians along with assistance, referral or resource information, counseling and resources for students affected by sexual abuse, and emotional and educational support for a child of abuse to continue to be successful in school.

The fiscal note attached to the bill states the task force has no fiscal impact.

Satrom said he is very excited about the task force. Several states have something similar in place, he said.

According to the 2015 report, “State and Federal Legislative Efforts to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse” by Prevent Child Abuse America, 30 states have state child sexual abuse prevention laws, some passed but not yet implemented.

“I’m excited about the possibilities,” Satrom said. “It has the potential of positively impacting lives.”

If you suspect a child is abused or neglected, call your county social services office. County information is available at www.nd.gov/dhs/locations/countysocialserv/. If a child is in immediate danger, individuals should contact law enforcement.