Wisconsin lawmakers look to toughen child abuse laws

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- In the wake of the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University, a lot of states are taking a closer look at ways to keep kids safe. Tuesday, Wisconsin lawmakers introduced legislation that would toughen the laws against child abusers.

The legislation would clear the way for civil lawsuits against child molesters. It would eliminate the statute of limitations on such suits.

Current Wisconsin law allows people to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who sexually abused them as a child until the victim turns 35.

While passing laws is one way of preventing child abuse from happening, some organizations in the La Crosse area say more needs to be done.

When the Boys and Girls club is looking for people to lend an extra helping hand, some things are more important than having an impressive resume.


"It's do they have a passion for kids, a passion to help kids," said Mike Desmond the executive director of the Boys and Girls club in La Crosse.  

And that passion for kids is something the club hopes creates a safe place for at-risk youths to turn to when they need help.

"That is an expectation of the job, that moral compass inside of us that says we have to be side-by-side with these kids and we have to develop a relationship where they trust us," said Desmond.

Everyone who works at the Boys and Girls club has to go through a thorough background check, interview and on-going job training to report any suspicion or cases of abuse. While the club's executive director says they've dealt with child abuse cases in the past, he said another law isn't necessarily going to stop these things from happening.

"You can write all the laws you want but if people don't feel a moral obligation to protect kids, no law is going to make a difference," said Desmond.

The Family and Children's Center works closely to help at-risk children and victims of sexual assault. They say this bill could be a step in the right direction.

"If it's reported sooner rather than later, if people are encouraged to report, something they know is going on, that gets the victim help sooner," said Mike Boehm, the Family and Children's Center chief program officer. "It stops the abuse sooner and it allows the authorities to get involved sooner."

But the center also agrees laws aren't enough.

"I think community awareness and education," said Boehm. "If you know it's going on, say something, don't look the other way, because to err on the other side is not what we want to do."

The Family and Children's Center also works to prevent child abuse before it even starts with its "Healthier Families" program.

The program helps provided services such as immunization or baby visits to families in an effort to help reduce some of the stressors that could potentially cause abuse and neglect. The center says the program is 99 percent effective.

This isn't the first time lawmakers have introduced this bill. In the past, some argued it created more danger for employers for fear of being sued.

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