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President Signs DelBene, Herrera Beutler’s Fix for Child Abuse Survivors Into Law

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Washington, D.C., December 12, 2017 | comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump today signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, which included part of Congresswomen Suzan DelBene (WA-01) and Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (WA-03) 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. “And while we took an important step in closing this loophole to ensure some justice for all survivors of these vile and horrific abuses, I will not stop fighting until convicted child abusers – no matter who they are or who they worked for – pay the full restitution owed.”

“I can’t imagine the crippling trauma survivors of child abuse must endure. The least we can do for them is ensure the law is on their side and that they have the right to seek justice from their perpetrators,” said Herrera Beutler. “I recognize there is still tremendous work to be done in advocating for survivors, but having this bill signed into law today marks a significant milestone.”

DelBene 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, he was shielded from paying a cent of the restitution he owes his children. Because of DelBene’s efforts, now 25 percent of offenders’ wages can be garnished for restitution, but she will keep fighting until survivors of military child abuse receive full equality and justice under the law, just as other survivors abused by federal employees currently receive.

“Words cannot express how happy I am to see part of the Child Abuse Accountability Enhancement Act become law. It’s been a long road. It’s time that military retirees who abuse children be held accountable for their actions. Survivors of child sexual abuse, like myself, deserve to have their needs met after such horrific crimes, no matter what their abuser did for a living,” Saum said. “I will continue to fight for support and improvements to this law to assure survivors receive the restitution that they are owed and that abusers, no matter what career they had are held accountable for their actions.”

DelBene’s bipartisan bill, which was introduced in February, closes 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).

During NDAA negotiations, the U.S. Department of Defense insisted on capping the garnishment of survivors like Saum. Next year, DelBene will once again work with members of the House Armed Services Committee, such as Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-02), to include all of the Child Abuse Accountability Enhancement Act in the defense spending 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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