MADISON, Wis. – Today, legislation arming prosecutors with additional tools to fight child neglect was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, nationwide.

“Today is a victory for children and those who work to protect them in Wisconsin,” said Attorney General Brad Schimel. “I’ve advocated for a change to Wisconsin’s child neglect statutes since my days as a prosecutor and I’m proud we were able to work with the Wisconsin State Legislature to pass the child neglect bill with bipartisan support.”

Assembly Bill 355, authored by Sen. Rob Cowles and Rep. Cody Horlacher, sets a criminal negligence standard by offering greater protection for neglected children, especially those suffering from emotional harm, or those whose neglect results in sexual assault, being trafficked for sex, and other horrific acts.

The law also tackles the problem of chronic neglect by allowing prosecutors to charge repeated acts of neglect committed against the same child. The change is similar to what exists for repeated acts of sexual assault or physical abuse. Often, children cannot identify specific dates or times when acts of sexual abuse were committed against them. Crimes of child neglect often follow that same pattern.

Finally, the new neglect law creates a drug endangered child component. Many times, young children who live in homes where methamphetamine is abused test positive for the drug and a number of very young children have died from exposure to opioid drug paraphernalia that belonged to their parents. Wisconsin law now explicitly protects children from neglect resulting from the use, distribution, or manufacture of controlled substances.

The Attorney General’s Task Force on Child Maltreatment assisted in drafting this legislation.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) is also currently working to establish evidence-based child abuse forensic interview guidelines for Wisconsin and is very active on the Statewide Child Death Review Council, which is currently working to establish a program in Wisconsin that reviews all child deaths in order to develop polices to prevent child deaths.

In October 2015, Attorney General Schimel appointed a child abuse resource prosecutor, who assists prosecutors across the state with challenging child abuse and neglect cases. Child abuse cases, particularly those involving abusive head trauma, formerly referred to by some as “shaken baby syndrome,” are very complex cases and require prosecutors to develop expertise in medical terminology and concepts. The child abuse resource prosecutor holds trainings for prosecutors and law enforcement around the state on topics ranging from child development, child abuse dynamics, forensic interviews, mandatory reporting, and prosecution strategies. The resource prosecutor also provides legal and technical assistance in and out of the courtroom in ongoing cases across the state.

Wisconsin’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program was launched in 1998 to help federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies enhance investigations into individuals who use the Internet and online communication systems to exploit children. In the last three years, ICAC teams across the state have dramatically increased the number of online child predator arrests and investigations.

  2015 2016 2017
Arrests 291 458 537
Search Warrants 459 705 856

ICAC also provides online safety training for parents, teachers, and communities. Since 2015, ICAC teams have given nearly 2,000 educational presentations statewide.

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