Rozzi, advocates call on governor to make child protection, safety a policy

HARRISBURG, Feb. 5 – State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, led a press conference today with advocates and members of the state House of Representatives to call on the governor to make child protection and safety a policy priority in the coming year.

Along with fellow state Reps. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware, Tina Davis, D-Bucks, and Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, Rozzi was joined by:

  • Prof. Marci Hamilton, CHILD USA, nonprofit think tank, University of Pennsylvania
  • Peggy Hoffman, Director of the PA StopAbuse Campaign
  • Danielle Pollack, parent/child advocate
  • Jill Deitrick, child advocate

Rozzi discussed his legislative initiatives to address custody issues and distribution of marital property when sexual abuse is involved, while calling attention to the most vulnerable victims of sexual abuse.

“The good news about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements is that victims are now stepping forward to identify predators,” Rozzi said, “and their protectors are on notice that sexual assault and harassment will not be tolerated. While we are sympathetic to the plight of athletes, models and movie stars, we forget that the most vulnerable population of sexual abuse victims are children. And if that isn’t wrong, what else really is?

“Today, we call upon Governor Tom Wolf and our fellow legislators to make the safety and protection of children a top priority and give children at least the same support that ‘Libre’s Law’ received in the hallways of this building.”

Dean spoke about child safety and protection legislation in light of recent local cases involving domestic abuse and the effect on children.

“Domestic violence is a tragedy, and when the safety of a child is in danger, it is particularly heinous,” Dean said. “Quickly getting away from an abuser is the first, but unfortunately often the most difficult step in these situations. Financial and legal difficulties are obstacles that can keep a person in the cycle of violence, Rep. Rozzi’s legislation will help overcome some of these obstacles and save lives.”  

Davis spoke about her proposed legislation, H.B. 956, which would help make sure courts in our commonwealth use procedures that put the child first during child custody cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse.

“When considering an award of custody, ensuring the health and safety of the child must be the court’s first priority,” Davis said. “At no time is this more important than when allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse arise. The court must take these claims very seriously to protect an abused parent or child. Courts should look to current, scientific research in these instances to inform their decisions, and should consult with professionals who are qualified to work with children and handle abuse cases.”

Davidson, chair of the Women’s Caucus, called for legislators to come together to take action on legislation to hold abusers accountable and fix current laws protecting them.

“It’s important to remember during this time of #MeToo that many victims and survivors have children who are also subject to abuse. As chair of the Women’s Caucus, I stand shoulder to shoulder with advocates and my fellow representatives to say enough is enough. We are putting abusers on notice that your time is up."

Hamilton called for legislative action to change the culture and policies that have allowed perpetrators to go unchecked and hold them accountable.

“It’s impossible to hold powerful people, institutions and organizations accountable without massive legal change,” Hamilton said. “The culture that permitted Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Dr. Nassar, teachers, priests and yes, lawmakers … free rein has been structured to shield the wrongdoers and keep the vulnerable weak. We need our elected officials to enact meaningful lasting change against these bullies and predators.”

Hoffman discussed the need for courts to use policies that are best for the child, instead of current practices that can be used by an abuser to shift attention or continue to mistreat their family.

“In custody court, abuse, and especially the sexual abuse of the children, becomes a hot potato,” Hoffman said. “No one wants to deal with it. When the mother reports, or her children disclose abuse, it opens up a new arena of control and maltreatment as the abuser uses custody ploys and family court itself. It happens by reconstructing the mother, who seeks to protect their children, into a pathological or vengeful liar, and she is now considered an ‘alienator.’ This label diverts the court’s attention away from claims that the father is abusive, and replaces it with a focus on a supposedly lying or deluded mother or child.”

Pollack advocated for an end to abuse victims being ordered to stay with the suspected abusers during child custody cases.

“Would any adult rape victim or victim of violent assault be ordered by court to live with or visit over and over again the very person who raped or assaulted them?” Pollack asked. “We would not dream of doing this. It’s unthinkable. Consider the terror of the victim having to see his or her abuser over and over, or worse, live with him full time. And yet, with children, somehow this is permissible by law, and in fact, it’s regularly ordered. In this way, we endanger and further traumatize vulnerable children.”

Deitrick spoke about the real impact that unfair custody practices have had on the safety and welfare of her family.

“My ex-husband sexually assaulted my five-year-old daughter and plead guilty to a very lenient sentence,” Deitrick said. “He filed for divorce and sought half of all marital assets, including my retirements and the land and farmhouse that has been in my family since 1880. He also requested alimony.

“My older boys were ordered to see multiple mental health professionals for custody evaluations. I had to pay $1400 for the first evaluation even as I was paying attorney fees and caring for four hurting children.”

The ChildLine and Abuse Registry Intake Unit is available at 1-800-932-0313. It is available 24 hours a day to receive reports of suspected child abuse. Any person may report suspected abuse, even if the individual wishes to remain anonymous.