RICHMOND, Va. -- Children who have been the victims of violent crime, including sexual abuse, are often too frightened or unable to testify against their attacker in court. In some cases, child predators and abusers go free.
But new legislation, making its way through the Virginia General Assembly, could bring justice to those cases.
State Senator Ryan McDougle (R) Hanover, is proposing “hearsay” legislation that would allow a child’s confession of abuse to a trusted person, such as a parent, teacher or caregiver, to be admissible as evidence in court.
Senate Bill 358 has already passed the Senate and is expected to receive overwhelming support when the House of Delegates votes later this week. A companion bill by Delegate Dave Albo, (R) Fairfax, has already passed the House.
McDougle says the legislation, which would apply to children under the age of 13 whose cases meet certain criteria, would help prosecutors secure additional evidence.
“The prosecution or law enforcement may have a confession,” McDougle says. “They know that the child was violated, that this horrible act was committed. But they don’t have enough evidence because there was nobody there except the child.”
A local mother, who requested that we call her “Cameron” to protect her family’s identity, says the law has the potential to help several vulnerable children who are too frightened to speak out.
In 2012, Cameron’s 6-year-old daughter was molested by her paternal grandfather. Cameron says her daughter was terrified to testify in front of her abuser in court, because her grandfather had threatened her several times during the two years of abuse.
The family decided a plea deal was in the best interest of their daughter, even though her abuser received a lighter sentence.
“She feels very good that we didn’t take it to court,” Cameron says. “Even though it was very painful to go through the interviews that she had to go through, she understands by doing that, she protected both her sisters and other girls and boys that it could happen to.”
Cameron says the law could help reassure children, while strengthening a prosecutor’s case. She believes more children would come forward if they felt protected.
“You need to have conversations with them,” Cameron says. “Letting your child know that there’s an open door and they can talk to you, or a friend, or anybody they feel comfortable with.”
The hearsay law already exists in the federal system and in a majority of states.