Task force calls for new laws, education to combat child sex abuse




A task force the governor created to help guide lawmakers on possible changes to state laws involving child victims of sexual abuse in Arizona made its final recommendations on Friday.

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 of changes in the law and changing criminal statutes. 

It appears that almost all the priorities discussed during the meetings have ended up in the 12-page document that outlines the task force’s recommendations to Gov. Doug Ducey. 

“My sincere thanks to the task force’s co-chairs, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Chief Deputy Rachel Mitchell and Senator Paul Boyer, as well as everyone who dedicated their time and energy to develop these recommendations. I look forward to working with all members to implement them,” Ducey said in a press release about the task force’s recommendations. 

Ducey announced the creation of the Justice for Victims of Child Sex Abuse Task Force at a ceremonial signing in May 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 consisted of victim advocates, lawmakers and law enforcement from across the state. 

Boyer, who championed the statute of limitations issue throughout the previous session, was the co-chair of the task force. 

The recommendations 

The task force’s recommendations are broad. 

The first recommendation is to include child sex trafficking in the criminal statute of limitations. There is no such statute of limitations for sexual molestation, sexual explotation and sexual contact with a minor under state law, but child sex trafficking has a statute of limitations of 7 years. 

The task force also recommended that state law change in regards to the definitions of who is considered to be in a “position of trust.” Currently state law includes a child’s parent, stepparent, adoptive parent, legal guardian, foster parent, teacher, coach, instructor, clergyman and priest as people who are considered as being in positions of trust. 

The task force wants to add relatives by blood or marriage within the third degree except for siblings, employers or bosses, adults in the same house, persons 10 years or older who the child has a relationship with or has a relationship with the family and revise two other categories. It also wants teacher or educator to include any adult school employee and clergyman to include priest or youth pastor. 

“Position of trust” is important for prosecuting child sex crimes, because prosecutors do not need to show a lack of consent in cases involving a minor between the ages of 15 to 17 if the defendant was in a position of trust. Additionally, if the defendant was in a position of trust, it elevates the crime from a class 6 felony to a class 2 felony. 

The task force also recommended that the law be changed to allow any judge overseeing a child sex abuse case or child sex trafficking case to prevent a defendant from personally questioning his or her victim in court. 

Another statutory change the task force wants to see is enhanced probation on sex crimes. 

Currently, sex trafficking related crimes do not require special probation terms. The task force recommended that anyone convicted of sex trafficking have similar probation terms as those convicted of gang or white collar criminal offenses. 

The task force also recommended that additional funding be provided for forensic interviewing of victims. 

Other funding recommendations include setting up a statewide program to provied grants to counties to allow them to re-examine DNA in cold-case child sexual abuse allegations. 

The task force also recommended that the Arizona Department of Public Safety begin conducting a study on creating a statewide database for all law enforcement in the state to use to track confirmed sexual predators and sex traffickers. Currently there is no such system in place. 

The task force also further advocated for increased awareness of the civil statute of limitation changes enacted earlier this year, chief among them a civil window for anyone to file a lawsuit that ends in December 2020. 

Funding for community organizations that provide aid to victims of child sexual abuse and adult survivors was also recommended, as was funding for a 24-hour statewide hotline to report incidents of abuse that would include counseling and referral services. 

The task force is also hoping for some data on the new law that spurred its creation, recommending that the courts collect data on the number of new civil cases filed in order to help the state further understand how the law worked and guide possible future statue of limitation changes. 

One recommendation that has already drawn some controversy and will likely draw some going into the January session will be the recommendations on education. 

The task force is recommending that the Arizona Department of Education create a statewide training program on mandatory reporting, as well as provide additional resources to students on sexual abuse. 

The task force also wants the education department to create curriculum centered on social media and cell phones, and how they are used by sexual predators. It further suggested the Department of Education create policies to ensure educators are using social media appropriately with their students. 

Teaching children how to spot sexual predation and sexual abuse is another recomendation, including age-appropriate classes on the issue, something that could run afoul of anti-sex education Republicans in the upcoming session. 

However, the recommendations are not all about curriculum. 

The task force wants to give the Arizona Board of Education the authority to investigate sexual misconduct of uncertified teachers. There are currently 6,000 uncertified teachers in the state, none of which can be investigated by the board. 

Additionally, the Department of Education only has a staff of six to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, so the task force is recommending additional funding to deal with the high caseloads that each of those investigators have. 

The task force is hoping to spread awareness for the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline.

Lastly, the task force is also recommending that foster children in DCS care are given age-appropriate materials and resources about sexual abuse and sex trafficking before they are placed in a group home or foster home.