A task force created by Gov. Doug Ducey that aims to look into cases of childhood sexual abuse and help guide lawmakers on possible changes to state laws involving victims in Arizona had its first meeting Thursday afternoon.
The Justice for Victims of Child Sex Abuse Task Force will be a statewide effort to examine cases and look into existing data on childhood sexual assault.
Ducey announced the task force in May during a ceremonial signing of a new law to expand the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers or the organizations that protected them.
The task force consists of victim advocates, lawmakers and law enforcement from across the state.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who championed the statute of limitations issue throughout the previous session along with Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, is the co-chair of the task force with acting Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell.
“I am the acting Maricopa County Attorney as of today,” Mitchell quipped at the meeting, “so I don’t have a lot going on right now.”
Mitchell was appointed to the post to replace Bill Montgomery, who was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Ducey.
Mitchell has worked on several high-profile child sex abuse cases during her tenure at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, including being appointed by then-County Attorney Rick Romley to oversee the office’s investigation into the Phoenix Archdiocese in the early 2000s.
“The Diocese of Phoenix is handling things much better, and we have turned a corner,” Mitchell said of her work on the case.
During her opening remarks to the task force, Mitchell stressed that training for statewide agencies will be key to prevention of child abuse, adding that the same training made available to those agencies should be made available to churches and other private entities.
Mitchell said she has seen more trainings that focus on themes like “never be alone in a room with a child” than on how to spot and prevent child sexual abuse, something she wants the task force to look into changing.
Boyer echoed those sentiments, and said he hopes the task force can help guide legislation on those issues this upcoming session.
The task force also heard a presentation from Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Joseph Hinrichsen, who has worked exstensively on sex crimes.
Hinrichsen gave an overview of the criminal statute of limitations in Arizona on child sexual crimes.
Task force members also discussed what they think should be future priorities for the task force.
Carter discussed her interest into looking at how to create better reporting mechanisms within schools, and said she believes the fingerprint clearance cards already required for all school employees and volunteers create a sense of “false security.”
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said she is interested in looking at what sort of data sharing police have on child sexual crimes.
One of the big issues brought up by both members of the committee and two members of the public who spoke was awareness of the recent changes to the statute of limitations.
Olympic speed skater Bridie Farrell, who is a victim herself, spoke to the committee and asked that they create an awareness campaign of the civil window and the changes to the law.
The civil window allows anyone to bring a civil suit against an alleged perpetrator until December of next year.
Farrell hopes that the task force can find funds to create an awareness campaign similar to what she is already doing with the Zero Abuse Project which is doing town halls across the state to help possible victims know about the changes.
The task force is scheduled to meet again Sept. 24.