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DelBene, Herrera Beutler Introduce Bill to Ensure Justice for Survivors of Child Abuse

Reps. Suzan DelBene (WA-01) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) today introduced the bipartisan Child Abuse Accountability Enhancement Act (H.R. 1103), closing a legal loophole that denies justice for some survivors of child abuse.

“Anyone who falls victim to physical, sexual or emotional violence — particularly children — deserves the opportunity to seek justice, regardless of who abused them,” DelBene said on the House floor. “It is unacceptable that current law shields some convicted child abusers from paying the restitution they owe. Our bipartisan legislation closes this loophole to ensure justice for all survivors of these vile and horrific abuses.” 

Currently, there is a loophole in federal law that shields convicted child abusers from paying the restitution they owe, if their income comes from the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) — the agency responsible for military retirement pay. While Congress unanimously approved a law in 1994 allowing child abuse survivors to receive garnishment from most federal retirees’ pay, it inadvertently excluded military retirees, whose pay is not disbursed by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).

“There is absolutely no reason for the existence of a loophole that puts the rights of convicted child abusers ahead of the survivors they’ve harmed,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’m proud to work alongside Congresswoman DelBene to eliminate this loophole and ensure survivors can seek this important measure of justice.”

DelBene has heard firsthand from survivor Pennie Saum, who as a child suffered abuses at the hands of her father, an Army veteran. Her father was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison, and Pennie and her brother were awarded a civil judgment for $5 million in damages. However, because their father’s primary source of income is military retirement pay, existing law has shielded him from paying a cent of the restitution he owes his children.

“Military retirees shouldn’t be exempt from having to pay restitution for something as horrific as child sexual, emotional and physical abuse.” Saum said. “The Enhancement Act will help many survivors for years to come.”

Current law already requires military retirees’ pay be garnished for court-ordered alimony, child support and commercial debt. The Child Abuse Accountability Enhancement Act simply extends this existing garnishment authority to include civil judgments awarded for the physical, sexual or emotional abuse of a child.

The bill has 22 original cosponsors, including Reps. Rick Larsen (WA-02), Dave Reichert (WA-08), Denny Heck (WA-10) and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07). The National Association to Protect Children, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Children’s Alliance, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also support the bill. 

More than 58,000 children in the United States are sexually abused each year, while nearly 120,000 children become victims of physical abuse, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS).

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