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Task Force Urges Steps To Combat Abuse of Children

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Washington--A Justice Department task force on family violence has recommended that the federal government require criminal background checks of all paid and volunteer employees of child-serving agencies that receive federal funds.

The Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence, in a 157-page report issued last month, also called on courts to allow videotaped testimony by children who have allegedly been abused.

"Progress against the problem of family violence must begin with the criminal-justice system," the report said. Noting that the number of ascertainable reported cases of child abuse and neglect doubled from 1976 to 1981, the task force urged the nation's criminal-justice system to treat physical and sexual abuse within the family as seriously as that found outside the family.

The task force called on law-enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges to "intervene vigorously" in cases of child abuse and molestation of children by family members, and in cases of spouse abuse and mistreatment of elderly relatives.

"Traditionally, society has not viewed family violence as a criminal-justice issue," said Lois Haight Herrington, assistant attorney general for justice assistance. "It is now time to do so. ... The law's protection should not stop at the family's front door."

Federal Leadership

"The federal government should not assume the authority to mandate what to do with parents who abuse their children or spouses who beat their partners," said Attorney General William French Smith in response to the report. "But the fed-eral government can provide leadership on this issue by focusing the attention of the public and policymakers on the severity of the problems involving family violence."

The task force also recommended: better data-collection procedures for family-violence offenses; arrest, prosecution, and sentencing procedures aimed at minimizing additional trauma for victims while holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions; and an end to the requirement that victims must sign formal complaints to initiate prosecution.

Task-force members heard testimony from more than 1,000 victims, professionals, and service providers during hearings conducted in the last year in Detroit, Kansas City, New York City, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Seattle.--ab

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