Q: What actions are underway in Congress to address criminal sexual assault of youth?
A: It’s sickening to learn that for a quarter century more than 150 young female athletes were molested by their sports medicine doctor. The trial of Dr. Larry Nassar exposed a decades-long chapter of criminal abuse perpetrated on innocent, young gymnasts. The crimes, which resulted in a 175-year sentence for Dr. Nassar, raise serious questions about the institutions, coaches, and trainers entrusted with these talented youths’ development. How did the doctor get away with these crimes for so long?
Abuse that occurs by someone in a position of trust, in what should be a safe environment, such as youth athletics programs, is outrageous. Sadly, however, sports officials adopted policies that may have allowed predators to victimize children long after they had good reason to suspect sexual abuse. And this is not the first time we’ve heard allegations about abuse in the athletics arena: In 2012, former college football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted and sentenced for molesting minors over a period of 15 years. It’s imperative that we uncover whatever systemic failures allow predators to abuse for so long.
We must continue to seek justice for victims. We also need to understand why allegations of sexual abuse so often remain hidden, instead of being immediately reported to law enforcement. The average perpetrator strikes multiple times before being caught, which is why it’s so important these crimes be promptly reported and investigated. I intend to continue to do oversight in this area and champion policies to protect the innocent from sexual abuse.
It is time to help end the silence, hold wrongdoers to account and bring justice to survivors. In January, Congress passed a bipartisan, bicameral bill I co-sponsored, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act, to shed the cloak of secrecy and protect minors and amateur athletes from sexual abuse. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I held a hearing on the issue of sexual abuse in amateur athletics; and I also led our Committee in approving this bill and reporting it to the full Senate. Our bill, which now has passed both chambers of Congress, strengthens reporting requirements for amateur sports organizations, including colleges, and it extends the statutory deadline by which survivors may file civil law suits to recover damages from their perpetrators. For all the young aspiring athletes who dream big and place their trust in others to keep their best interests at heart, Congress is sending a message that society can and must do better.
Q: What other legislative and oversight measures are you developing to stop sexual violence?
A: As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I put a high priority on victims’ rights and work to help ensure survivors are able to seek justice. Notably, the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, which I led through the Committee in 2016, secures new rights for survivors of sexual violence, including provisions stipulating that victims cannot be denied or charged for sexual assault exams; extending the period in which forensic evidence must be preserved; and extending the period in which child survivors of human trafficking crimes may file civil lawsuits against the perpetrators. I worked closely with a brave young rape survivor, Amanda Nguyen, in finalizing this legislation and shepherding it through the Senate. A nearly identical measure was introduced in the House of Representatives, and the President signed our bill into law in October 2016. By courageously speaking out and standing up for justice, Amanda Nguyen and these young gymnasts are making a huge difference.
I’m also working on reforms to help end sexual harassment in the workplace. Through my congressional oversight work, I seek to root out sexual misconduct in federal agencies, from the Secret Service to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I recently led efforts to mandate anti-sexual harassment training on Capitol Hill for Senators and their staff. In this Congress, I’m also continuing my bipartisan efforts to strengthen accountability on college campuses and in the military.
There’s a cultural movement underway in America. Let’s use this opportunity to make a difference. I will continue to champion measures to prevent campus sexual assault, ensure that our men and women in uniform feel comfortable reporting sexual misconduct without fear of retaliation, and seek adequate funding for programs to help victims of intimate partner violence.
Finally, this year I will work with my colleagues on legislation to renew and extend the programs that were established under the Violence Against Women Act. This 1994 federal law created the National Domestic Violence Hotline and authorized federal programs and resources for domestic violence victims, such as legal assistance, transitional housing and counseling.