New Legislation to Improve FBI Child Victim Protocols Passes House

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U.S. Senator Chris Coons and his colleagues’ new bill aims to improve the treatment of FBI child victim 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 says, “We have a duty to ensure that survivors and witnesses to sexual assault are heard and respected, especially when they come forward to law enforcement to report abuse.“ He adds that mishandled or repeated interviews can too often retraumatize survivors. The bill now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

More Information from the Press Release:

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) released the following statements after the Respect for Child Survivors Act, a bill developed in response to the FBI’s mishandling of the Larry Nassar investigation, passed the House. The bill, now headed to the President’s desk, would improve the treatment of FBI child victim 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.

“We have a duty to ensure that survivors and witnesses to sexual assault are heard and respected, especially when they come forward to law enforcement to report abuse,” said Senator Coons. “Unfortunately, mishandled or repeated interviews can too often retraumatize survivors. The bipartisan, bicameral Respect for Child Survivors Act will reduce poorly conducted interviews during investigations of child abuse and sexual exploitation by requiring the FBI to use multidisciplinary teams of trained professionals. I’m proud to see this head to the President’s desk for signature, and I hope it will protect survivors and encourage more to come forward.”

“The FBI has a sworn obligation to protect victims who report child abuse, and that extends to agents’ interviews with vulnerable child witnesses,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation requires the FBI to include trauma-informed experts in interviews with victims to ensure they are not retraumatized during the interview process, and I urge President Biden to swiftly sign it into 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. Our legislation makes 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 of 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 child witnesses like those 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 would prevent the retraumatizing of 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. This bill would also provide a dedicated source of funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers, which coordinate the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of child abuse cases.

This legislation is supported by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, the National District Attorneys Association, Army of Survivors, and the National Children’s Alliance.


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