CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia lawmakers earlier this week received the report of the State Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, and leaders are promising to act on the report’s recommendations to better protect children from sexual abuse.
The Joint Committee on Education reviewed and heard presentations related to the task force’s report on Tuesday. House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, also serve as co-chairmen of the task force.
“Since 2015, this 23-member task force has logged many hours of research and heard from victims, experts and professionals about how we can better protect, identify and help children who are abused,” Chairman Espinosa said. “They focused on ways to improve adult responsibility and child empowerment, and we hope to work swiftly to implement their recommendations.”
“Knowing that one in every 10 children will be a victim of sexual abuse before they turn 18 is a sobering statistic, and we must do everything we can to help these kids,” Chairman Mann said. “I was pleased that Gov. Jim Justice made this a priority in his State of the State speech, and look forward to passing legislation that can combat this.”
The task force was created in 2015 following the passage of House Bill 2527, named “Erin Merryn’s Law” after a child sexual abuse survivor and native West Virginian who has championed similar laws across the nation. The 23-member task force is made up of representatives from the legislative, executive and judicial branches, as well as teachers, principals, sexual abuse survivors and other advocacy groups.
The task force’s report contained five key recommendations:
Advocates who served on the task force said they were grateful lawmakers had made implementing these recommendations a priority for this legislative session.
“We are extremely pleased to be part of the State Task Force on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse working with lawmakers, survivors, educators, law enforcement, higher education and advocates to complete this report and recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse in West Virginia,” said Jim McKay, director of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia. “As the Task Force Co-chairs have noted, ‘These recommendations are bold, yet attainable; aspirational, yet achievable.’ We look forward to working with lawmakers and other policy makers to implement the task force recommendations and protect children across West Virginia no matter where they live.”
“We know that too many children endure abuse and often suffer in silence with devastating results,” said Emily Chittenden-Laird, executive director of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network. “These children depend on adults in their lives to listen to them and care for them and to protect them. Often the most important person in helping a child is their teacher or a caring adult in their school.
“We are pleased that lawmakers have taken such a genuine interest in tackling this critical problem facing our state,” Chittenden-Laird said. “We know that educators are often on the front lines in caring for a child who has been abused and we want them to get all the help they need to ensure that children have the bright future that they all deserve.”
Espinosa and Mann said they were working to draft legislation based on the report’s recommendations, and would work to have it passed by the end of this year’s legislative session.