SD panel approves child sex abuse task force
By Nora Hertel
PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota's Senate Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday to establish a task force that would study the impact of child sexual abuse.
The group would be named Jolene's Law Task Force after Jolene Loetscher of Sioux Falls, a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager who has spoken publicly about her story.
The task force would meet to study child sexual abuse in South Dakota and suggest ways the state could improve its policies for dealing with the problem.
"We owe it to everyone to give all of those children out there the right to become survivors," Loetscher said, in support of the bill.
The Associated Press generally does not normally name the victims of sexual abuse but is naming Loetscher because she has come forward and spoken publicly.
The task force would include a victim, law enforcement, medical and mental health experts, child advocates and a tribal representative with experience on the issue. It includes a $21,000 allocation from the Legislative Research Council to fund meetings later this year.
The measure now goes to the full Senate.
The bill's main sponsor, Sen. Deb. Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said one in four girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual assault.
"This is an adult problem," Soholt said.
Soholt initially thought she would propose a school mandate and take direct action addressing the issue. But after talking to educators, she determined more investigation needs to be done.
"What I came to understand is that we don't know what to do," Soholt said.
Hollie Strand, a forensic interviewer who talks to children in abuse cases, said she has noticed inconsistency in how organizations address this problem.
"Everybody has a different response to this. I don't think we know as a state who's getting it right and who's getting it wrong," Strand said.
Dr. Nancy Free, a pediatrician and expert in the evaluation and treatment of abused and neglected children, said child sexual abuse often goes unreported, causing later problems.
"It's expensive to take care of adults who have been victimized and not helped," Free said.
She said adults who suffered sexual abuse as children have high rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.
Other supporters of the bill included child advocacy organizations and the state Department of Social Services. No one spoke in opposition to the bill.
"These are the most vulnerable victims that there are," said Dick Tieszen of the South Dakota Sheriffs' Association. "The problem is here, next we need to understand it."