Congress Passes the "Adam Walsh Bill" to Protect Children from Abuse: It Is a Good Start, But More Needs to Be Done to Make It Effective By MARCI HAMILTON
Thursday, Jul. 27, 2006
The United States is in the midst of a civil rights movement for children, and not a moment too soon. Not long ago, children were, in effect, treated as their parents' property, and the law did little to protect them from harm. Today, however, there is increasing legislative movement in their interest, and in particular to protect them from violent crimes. But there is still a long path to travel.
On Tuesday, July 25, the House sent President Bush the "Adam Walsh Bill," which institutes a national database of convicted child molesters, increases penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children, and creates a RICO cause of action for child predators and those who conspire with them. (For more on the potential uses of RICO - the federal Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organizations statute -- to combat conspiracies fostering child abuse, see my prior column
on the possibility of using the statute against churches that covered up abuse and transferred abusing clergy.)
The bill was backed by John Walsh, of "America's Most Wanted" fame. In 1981, Walsh's six-year-old son Adam was kidnapped and killed. Walsh subsequently founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and dedicated his life to the protection of children. To Walsh's credit, his personal nightmare and what he learned from it have led to great public benefit.
The Adam Walsh Bill is a good law for children, and there is every reason for President Bush to sign it. It keeps child predators in jail longer, increases public information about the location of predators, and opens a new means of bringing predators to justice through a RICO theory. But it is not enough.
Children surely need further protection, on both the state and federal level. And the agency charged with implementing the Adam Walsh Bill, by creating the database, must be careful to ensure that it is not plagued with the same search problems that affect, for example, the Pennsylvania Megan's Law database. The Inaccuracies in Pennsylvania's Predator Database
The Adam Walsh bill requires convicted child predators to register for an online database, which will be accessible to citizens. Failure to register is a felony.