Sunday, February 13, 2005

History of Child Abuse, Neglect and Sexual Abuse/Assault Laws

From The Awareness Center:


History of Child Abuse, Neglect and Sexual Abuse/Assault Laws

The majority of individuals are unaware of the story of Mary Ellen, a nine-year-old girl from New York. If it wasn't for a nurse who was working in her neighborhood, we might not have the laws on our books that we have today. The nurse did NOT sit back and do nothing. She responded. She didn't take NO for an answer. She didn't sit back and wait for someone else to do something.

Back in 1874 there were NO laws on the books to protect children, yet there were laws on the books to protect animals. Because Mary Ellen was a member of the animal kingdom, the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animal was able to do something to protect her from any more harm.

When the story hit the news media there was a public outcry for there to be change in the way children were treated. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed, and by 1900 there were 161 such groups in the U.S.

It's unbelieveable that it wasn't until 1968, when Dr. C. Henry Kempe and Ray E. Helfer's book The Battered Child was published, that people began to be aware of and believe that parents and caregivers truly could and did physically abuse their children. Please note that it wasn't until almost 20 years later that the world started to pay attention to the whole issue of sexual abuse/assault of children (and adults).

Be aware it wasn't until 1983-84, in Illinois the Confidentiality of Statements Made to Rape Crisis Personnel granted absolute privilege to sexual assault victims. This act was important because it meant that anything a rape victim said to a Rape Crisis Counselor or Legal advocate was absolutely confidential. This meant that no court could supena records of victims.

In 1984 several very important acts were also implemented. In Illinois, the Violent Crime Victims Assistance Act was signed into law. This basically provided victims of all crimes, including survivors of sexual violence free counseling and advocacy. This same year the federal governement, signed into law the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), it was at that time states received notice of future funding for victims services.

It's important to keep all of the relatively new history of how our society has dealt with criminal sexual acts. It helps to understand why it is so important for organizations like The Awareness Center to exsist.

We all have to be thankful to the nurse who cared enough to do something about Mary Ellen, back in 1874.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is interesting, thanks for posting it.
Judith Herman points out in her book that it's taken cycles of social and political movements to help bring awareness to these issues. And that the reason Freud had to 'bury' his findings on violence and sex abuse was that there were no social or political movements at the time.

February 14, 2005 2:19 PM  

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