Less than a week ahead of the 2019 Virginia General Assembly, Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10) is striving to tighten Virginia’s laws to protect children from sexual abuse.
Gooditis today announced a slate of four bills aimed to combat child abuse that she’s filed ahead of this year’s General Assembly session, which begins Wednesday. Those bills would change Virginia’s definition of child sexual abuse, make clergy of all religious denominations mandated reporters of child abuse, maintain records of child abuse investigations for three years and penalize those who expose children to domestic violence.
“If I can do anything to save that one child who is being abused right now…then I will do it,” Gooditis said.
Alongside Gooditis in the Leesburg Town Council chambers were Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman; Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large); Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk; Judy Hanley, the executive director of the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter and the director of the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center; and Ian Danielsen, an assistant professor of social work at Longwood University.
Gooditis’ first bill, which she feels will be the most difficult to pass, would change Virginia’s definition of child sexual abuse by adding a clause that would make it illegal to touch any part of the body of a child aged 13 or younger with the “intent to sexually molest, arouse or gratify” the child.
Her second bill would make clergy of all religious denominations, such as priests, rabbis and imams, mandated reporters of child abuse “unless the information supporting the suspicion of child abuse or neglect is required by the doctrine of the religious organization or denomination to be kept confidential.” “Why isn’t everybody a mandatory reporter,” Gooditis asked.
Her third bill would require records of child abuse investigations to be kept in a secure database for three years if there are no subsequent complaints or reports regarding the same child or person within that time. “If we can hang on to those records a little bit longer, that would make it easier for us to catch [a predator],” Gooditis said.
Her fourth bill, which she developed in conjunction with Plowman, would penalize any person who commits domestic violence in the physical presence of a minor.
If a person commits assault and battery in a minor’s presence, that person could be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor for a first offense and a class 6 felony for a second offense. If a person commits any act of violence in the presence of a minor, they could be guilty of a class 5 felony.
“We have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable,” Plowman said. “I think these bills will help us.”
Randall said at the conference that during her time working in the prison system as a mental health therapist, she found that a majority of the incarcerated men and women were abused as children. “That’s important to note,” she said.
Gooditis mentioned that her brother’s death 10 days after she announced her candidacy in March 2017 was a driving force behind the bills, noting that her brother turned to alcohol in the years after he was sexually abused at the age of 11 in 1971.