In the wake of recent high-profile child sex abuse scandals, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is exploring whether to set a tough national standard for reporting child abuse.
Lawmakers are looking to strengthen laws after recent allegations surfaced that Penn State coaches and administrators knew children were being molested on campus, yet didn't report the incidents to the proper authorities. As a former social worker, Mikulski has seen child neglect cases firsthand.
"This senator takes the position that no institution should ever be too big to report, or too famous to report, and no adult should ever feel that they're protected because of the brand that they represent," Mikulski says.
Mikulski heads the Senate health committee's subcommittee on children and families, which is considering whether to tighten federal laws against child abuse. Members held a hearing on the issue Dec. 13.
States such as Maryland don't currently impose criminal penalties if caregivers fail to report abuse, which Mikulski says makes the laws "unenforceable."
She points out that victims are often abused a second time if the crime isn’t taken seriously. "If you see something, if you know something, then report it," she says. "If you see something, do something."
Witnesses at the hearing also urged lawmakers to focus on training educators, coaches and caregivers to prevent and report signs of abuse.