State Sen. James Skoufis said he was approached in 2020 by a father who thought there were loopholes in the state’s sexual abuse laws.
The result is a new definition of third-degree "sexual conduct against a child." It now includes when an adult is guilty of using either a finger or foreign object on a child less than 13.
“It's unthinkable for any family to have a child literally raped and not be able to seek justice because of that omission, that oversight in the law," Skoufis said. "So, we got to work. We put together a bill. It took two years, unthinkably, it took two years for us to pass this. But it did and now those families will be able to seek justice moving forward, to hold their perpetrators accountable.”
He said it was a major victory for victims and their families, especially the family that came forward to share the story.
“I mean, the family is the epitome of courage, and it's not easy to come forward and share, even privately share, what happened to their family with anybody. And he did, and they did, because they didn't want this to happen to other families. And so, they turned their unbelievable tragedy into action and into a bill, and now into a law and you know what? They've done, I mean, that's part of their family's legacy,” said Skoufis.
The victim's father, Fred, said his family feel a sense of relief with the new law being put in place.
“My daughter became an advocate because of what had happened and it changed her life. It made her realize that needs to be changed,” he said.
Although it marks a step forward, Fred said more needs to be done.
“We need to look at all the states," he said. "We need to look at other areas that have been neglected for sexual abuse and for these assaults on children. And we need to make sure that other states don't have these same loopholes, that sexual predators can get away with abusing young children and not have to pay the actual price of what they actually have done,” said Skoufis.
Sarita Green, associate director of Fearless, said parents need to be aware of the signs and listen to their children.
“It's really important to be teaching children about having autonomy and control over their own bodies, understanding boundaries and how people should respect those boundaries and creating an environment where children will share if it feels if something feels not okay or feels uncomfortable for them," Green said.
"Having the space to identify that and to have that be respected and that your children disclose that something has happened, that they're not OK with that, they're believed and that we're immediately providing them with support," Green said.