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Opinion — U.S. Rep. Jenkins: Protecting our children from predators

By  U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va.

As a father, it’s devastating to hear of children who have been victimized by predators, whether they be strangers or trusted coaches or mentors. My colleagues and I in the U.S. House of Representatives are taking action to protect our children and give law enforcement the tools they need to keep our children safe and stop sex offenders.

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., 3rd District

Recently, the West Virginia State Police and the U.S. Marshals Service issued arrest warrants for sex offenders who have failed to comply with registration requirements in several West Virginia counties. I am working with local law enforcement to give them the tools they need to ensure that are able to enforce the registry.

Background checks and the National Sex Offender Registry are essential to protecting our children, but they only work if they’re publicly available. With my support, the House passed the Strengthening Children’s Safety Act, which cracks down on sex offenders who don’t register with the National Sex Offender Registry when they have a prior state conviction for a violent crime. This makes sure our local law enforcement and our neighbors know about the sex offenders in our communities that have violent pasts.

Every parent has the right to know how safe their neighborhoods are, which is why I have worked with my colleagues to reauthorize both the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act and the Sex Offender Management Assistance Program, which prevent child abuse by ensuring the public has access to information on known sex offenders nearby.

I also supported passage of the Child Protection Improvements Act, which gives youth organizations access to the FBI’s database system to run national background checks on potential staff hires. Many organizations currently only have access to state-level background check systems, limiting their ability to conduct widespread background checks on employees at the national level.

We have seen heartbreaking stories in the news recently about trusted coaches and medical professionals in youth sports who have been abusing children. Every child deserves to be able to safely participate in after-school activities and be a part of a sports team. Parents deserve to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their child is safe when with coaches, therapists and physicians.

With the increasing number of allegations of sexual abuse made against personnel involved with sports teams, I supported passage of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act, which requires the prompt reporting of suspected cases of abuse and establishes mandatory training and procedures for preventing and reporting allegations of sexual abuse at amateur athletic bodies.

Abuse in any shape or form must be reported to law enforcement authorities, and no child should be silenced from speaking out against any abuse that has been inflicted upon them.

Also, through my role on the House Appropriations Committee, I have supported continued funding for crucial programs that help protect our children, including West Virginia’s child advocacy centers. These centers bring together law enforcement entities to investigate allegations of abuse while providing a caring, nurturing environment for children that are going through the darkest periods of their young lives. Last year, more than 3,500 children were helped by child advocacy centers in West Virginia, and I will continue to support their mission to help children victimized by abuse.

We can and must do more to protect innocent young lives from predators, and I will keep working with my colleagues to support legislation to help safeguard all children. We will continue to give law enforcement the tools they need to catch and incarcerate these violent criminals. We have made notable progress in preventing and prosecuting crimes against our children, and I am confident that together we can help our children grow up in a safer world.

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