The House Friday passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, which included Congresswoman Suzan DelBene’s (WA-01) bipartisan Child Abuse Accountability Enhancement Act (H.R. 1103) to close a legal loophole that denies justice for some survivors of child abuse. The NDAA now heads to the Senate before reaching the President’s desk.
“It is unacceptable that current law shields some convicted child abusers from paying the restitution they owe. Anyone who falls victim to physical, sexual or emotional violence — particularly children – deserves the opportunity to seek justice, regardless of who abused them,” DelBene said. “The inclusion of my bill in the NDAA will finally close this loophole to ensure justice for all survivors of these vile and horrific abuses, and I hope the Senate and President act quickly so this important reform becomes law.”
Currently, there is a loophole in federal law that shields convicted child abusers from paying the restitution they owe, if their income comes from the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) – the agency responsible for military retirement pay. While Congress unanimously approved a law in 1994 allowing child abuse survivors to receive garnishment from most federal retirees’ pay, it inadvertently excluded military retirees, whose pay is not disbursed by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).
Many childhood victims of sexual abuse are rarely compensated or rarely receive restitution for the abuse they endured. There are a couple of exceptions that come to mind, and that is children are abused by members of the church. In this instance, these abuse survivors are able to sue for clergy abuse, where they get a civil remedy and a defendant who has the resources to pay the judgment/settlement in a lump sum. Victims of abuse seeking restitution from a single individual, without the capacity to pay a restitution judgment in full, are not as fortunate.
DelBene heard about this issue firsthand from survivor Pennie Saum, who as a child suffered abuses at the hands of her father, an Army retiree. Her father was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison, and Pennie and her brother were awarded a civil judgment for $5 million in damages. However, because their father’s primary source of income is military retirement pay, existing law has shielded him from paying a cent of the restitution he owes his children.
After hearing Pennie’s story, DelBene introduced the Child Abuse Accountability Enhancement Act with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03), and worked with members of the House Armed Services Committee to attach her bill to the House NDAA during the Committee’s markup in June.
“Military retirees shouldn’t be exempt from having to pay restitution for something as horrific as child sexual, emotional and physical abuse,” Saum said. “The Child Abuse Accountability Enhancement Act will help many survivors for years to come.”
Once the Senate passes its NDAA, the two chambers will go to conference to work out differences before the legislation goes to the President for his signature.