This story deals with sexual abuse and assault of minors. If you or someone you know has been a victim of this crime, call 800-656-HOPE for 24/7 help and support.
A task force created by Gov. Doug Ducey that aims to help guide lawmakers on possible changes to state laws involving child victims of sexual abuse in Arizona will begin formulating and drafting recomendations in the coming weeks to present to lawmakers by the start of the next legislative session.
What exactly those recommendations will be is still up in the air.
During its meetings, which began this summer, the task force’s discussions have ranged from preventative education, better reporting mechanisms within schools and data sharing between police departments to increasing awareness in changes in the law and, most recently, tightening up criminal statutes.
The task force’s report on its recommendations and findings is due to the governor by December. The task force plans to meet three more times before the end of the year.
The Justice for Victims of Child Sex Abuse Task Force was announced 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.
At the task force’s Oct. 1 meeting, Mitchell, a former child sex crimes prosecutor, gave a presentation on areas in which the criminal law on child sex crime that could use some “tightening up.”
During discussions last legislative session about the statute of limitations on child sex abuse, advocates noted that the legislature had in the past removed the statutes of limitations for many sex crimes – but not sex trafficking.
This was due in part to changing definitions to the term sex trafficking. Law enforcement in the late 1990s was transitioning away from using the term prostitution as an umbrella term for anything related to sex trafficking, and for many years there hadn’t been anything in criminal codes for sex trafficking.
Adding sex trafficking to the list of crims that don’t have a statue of limitations is something that many on the task force appeared to be interested in exploring.
According to the non-profit Polaris Project, 1 out of 7 runaway children in 2017 were likely vicitms of sex trafficking.
In addition to changes to the statute of limitations, Mitchell also stressed that anyone who is found guilty of sex trafficking charges in Arizona does not have to abide by special probation terms that are required for people who commit other crimes.
For example, anyone convicted of a computer related crime has special probation terms related to how they can use electronics, while those convicted of a gang-related crime may have probation terms that limit whom they can associate with and where. Mitchell suggested that any special probation terms for sex trafficking may be a mixture of other terms already in state statute as the crime of sex trafficking often includes multiple types of criminal acts.
The task force has heard from a variety of experts in a variety of fields about gaps in coverage and how the state could better help victims and prevent children from becoming victims.
There are a variety of recommendations they could give to the governor and state legislature on how to better help.
On Tuesday’s meeting the task force heard from Daphne Young, Chief Communications Officer for Childhelp, spoke about one possible recommendation that is likely to hit roadblocks.
Young gave a presentation about her organization’s program which does preventative education in schools on how to spot and stop adverse sexual behavior from an adult.
“I want to be very clear, this is not sex education,” Young said, describing the program as more akin to “stop, drop and roll” safety education.
Currently, 26 states, plus Guam, have enacted some form of legislation that requires the state to either study or develop age-appropriate child sexual abuse prevention and identification classes beginning in pre-kindergarten in order to educate both students and teachers about the signs of child sexual abuse.
Arizona is not among them.
Childhelp’s program focuses on five rules it teaches to kids: It’s my body, ask an adult if I’m safe, I have choices, tell someone, it’s never my fault.
Young told the task force that she has already had pushback on implementing the program in schools. At the schools where Childhelp has been successful, she said the support of school resource officers assigned to the schools by the local police department has been instrumental.
At a Sept. 14 forum opposing comprehisive sex education, Senate Education Chairwoman Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said she will introduce legislation in 2020 to block any kind of sex education from being taught until the fifth grade.
Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, has also spoken publicly against sex education and was at the same forum with Allen. Boyer told the Arizona Mirror he plans to bring both the lawmakers on board and believes they should “all be on the same page.”
The task force also appears to be planning to recommend more changes to civil and criminal statutes. Its next meeting will feature a presentation on civil laws governing sex abuse victims.
Later this month, the task force expects to have proposed recommendations for changes to Arizona’s criminal laws.