Child sexual abuse is an adult problem. In no other way do we make our children responsible for their own safety. We give them shelter, clothing, food, education, and take care of them when they are sick. Yet, if they are being sexually abused, we leave it up to them – to tell, to endure, and to heal.
In 2014, through SDCL2-6-31, Jolene’s Law Task Force was charged to study the prevalence and impact of child sexual abuse (CSA) in the state. The Task Force met during the 2014, 2015, and 2016 interim legislative sessions. Task force membership represented the executive and legislative branches of South Dakota government, along with a medical doctor specializing in child sexual abuse, a State’s attorney, professionals from Child Advocacy Centers (CACs), counselors, law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tribal community. Additionally, Jolene Loetscher, a victim of child sexual abuse and for whom the Task Force is named, was a member. Senator Deb Soholt, District 14, served as chair and Senator Alan Solano as vice-chair of the Task Force and its efforts.
The task force came to understand that:
- Child sexual abuse is a serious, significant issue in South Dakota.
- At least 4,000 children in our state experience sexual abuse every year.
- Students in South Dakota who have been forced to have sex, been touched sexually when they did not want to be, or forced to do sexual things other than sexual intercourse are two to five more times likely to consider or attempt to commit suicide.
- This topic is a public health priority for the safety and health of our kids.
- Child sexual abuse happens in all socio-economic and race groups.
- South Dakota adults need to lead a culture shift to protect our children.
- The most powerful lever for change rests with mandatory reporters.
- A coordinated system of response and early intervention must be developed.
- A single entity should be responsible to aggregate statewide child sexual abuse data and use that to drive effective interventions and change.
Each year the Task Force issued reports summarizing its work, insight gained, research, and background assumptions behind child sexual abuse in South Dakota.
Based on its 2016 efforts, the Task Force outlined six major goals and 48 supporting objectives that address a comprehensive approach towards ending child sexual abuse in South Dakota. Although the focus of this plan is child sexual abuse, the objectives will increase the state’s capacity to address all forms of child maltreatment. The plan focuses on the child, family, and professionals that surround the child and family. The plan does not, at this time, focus on the offenders. It is anticipated that this will be a required future effort as the offenders’ health and learned behavior patterns are the true root of this issue.
The Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment at the University of South Dakota (USD) is the driving force behind coordination of Jolene’s Law Task Force 10-Year strategic plan, and will work to remove barriers to completing objectives.