Several years ago while preparing to begin my second term in the Texas House of Representatives, I came across Jenna Quinn and her tremendous story of personal resilience in the face of unspeakable sexual abuse that went undetected for many years.
Like so many tragic victims in that circumstance, Jenna was just a child who was afraid to come forward and had no idea of where to turn for help. Thank the Lord the Denton County Children’s Advocacy Center was there on the frontlines to assist Jenna during this time of great challenge, and to facilitate the critical healing she needed.
Jenna’s story has a happy ending. Her attacker was eventually exposed and sentenced to 20 years in prison, and today Jenna is an extraordinarily effective advocate for child abuse prevention. After my initial visits with Jenna in 2007 and learning more about her personal struggle and the epidemic levels of sexual abuse committed against our children across the state and throughout the nation, I recognized this was a critical area of public policy requiring my immediate attention.
During the 2009 Legislative Session, we passed Jenna’s Law, which empowered school district employees, students and parents with the knowledge necessary to immediately recognize the signs of child sexual abuse and how to get the tragic victims of this crime the immediate help they need. No sooner had Texas enacted this tool for preventing sexual abuse when many other states started to use Jenna’s Law as a model for their own new laws on the topic. Aided by Jenna’s tireless advocacy all across this nation, the law that bore her name in Texas had taken off.
The next session we came back and expanded Jenna’s Law to cover other common forms of child abuse and to also apply to the employees of child care centers, foster care centers, day care providers and many others. It also strengthened the employee education component to require all new educators to receive child abuse prevention training as part of their orientation.
The third bite at that apple successfully came during the recently concluded 83rd Legislative Session. Jenna’s Law was strengthened again to include employees of public universities and to require that all educators, regardless if they are new employees or not, receive proven training on how to recognize and help prevent child abuse. This session I also authored another law that addressed a loophole in child abuse reporting requirements by making it a felony for a licensed professional to knowingly attempt to conceal their direct knowledge or suspicion of child abuse. Prior to this new law, it was actually a greater crime in Texas for a person to submit a false claim of child abuse than it was to choose to be indifferent toward actual child abuse by concealing explicit knowledge of this horrendous crime.
As the father of two young daughters, protecting our children has always been a passion of mine and an endeavor that has been very rewarding to work on during my time in public office. Years from now I will look back on my service and reflect on the advancements we made toward combating child abuse as an accomplishment I was most proud to be a part of. Helping those who have not yet gained the capability to help themselves remains our highest calling as a civil society, and it is a challenge that I will never forget and will continue to passionately address.
I am very privileged that my efforts, without solicitation on my part, were recognized when I was recently named as the recipient of the Texas Child Protection Roundtable’s Children’s Guardian Angel Award. It is a tremendous honor to be the recipient of such an award but this award is really about Jenna Quinn and the thousands of innocent children who have suffered from this unspeakable crime and their strength to come forward and fight against such adversity.
As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives and I welcome your feedback on this and any other critical state issues. If you would like to share a thought with me, please feel free to contact me at my Capitol office at 512.463.0688 or by e-mail at [email protected]