U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger is urging fellow U.S. Congress members to support the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act of 2013 – a federal bill calling for harsher penalties for felony child abusers.
The bill is named for 4-year-old Kilah Davenport, who suffered serious injuries after her stepfather allegedly severely beat her last year. The incident took place in Indian Trail.
Pittenger, who represents part of Union County, began working on the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act with the North Carolina-based Justice For All Coalition earlier this year and introduced the bill to Congress in March. If passed, the federal legislation would require states to punish child abusers who inflict serious injury with a minimum prison sentence of 10 years. States that fail to comply would lose federal funding for child abuse prevention programs.
The bill currently has 15 co-sponsors, including most recently U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, who also represents part of Union County. But as Congress tends to other matters, focus has shifted away from the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act, according to a news release from Pittenger’s office.
“Unfortunately, the legislation is currently awaiting action in the House Judiciary Committee, where members and staff are busy with important issues including the NSA controversy, the administration’s seizure of the media’s phone records, immigration and the Benghazi attack,” read the release.
While the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act has received support from House members who represent North Carolina, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Kay Hagan have not publically expressed support for the bill.
Pittenger issued a public request for additional co-sponsors last week hoping to propel the bill out of the judiciary committee and before the House for a vote.
“Sadly, inadequate and ambiguous child abuse laws are not unique to North Carolina,” Pittenger said in the release. “Now is the time to find an appropriate response to ensure the safety and protection of our most precious treasures, America’s children. Those who destroy a child’s future should receive much more than a slap on the wrist.”
According to Justice For All Coalition member Katie Freeman, the nationwide average prison sentence for child abusers who inflict serious injury is 25 percent shorter than prison sentences for those who inflict similar injury on adults.
Until recently, the maximum sentence for felony child abusers in North Carolina was four to eight years. But after Kilah Davenport’s family members learned how lenient the state’s child abuse punishments were, they fought alongside Justice For All Coalition founder Jeff Gerber to pass Kilah’s Law – a North Carolina legislation imposing prison sentences of 25 years to life on felony child abusers. The bill was officially signed into law in April.
But according to Freeman, that puts North Carolina in a very small minority.
“Most states have a very lenient policy on child abuse,” she said. “Most of (the states’ policies) match North Carolina’s previous law.” She added only about five states are currently pursuing a legislation similar to Kilah’s Law, naming New York, Michigan and Delaware as states that have passed or are close to passing such legislation.
For Kirbi Davenport, Kilah’s mom, pursuing the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act is about nothing more than taking the tragedy her family experienced and using it to save the lives of children across the nation.
“If this can save one child, we’ve done something positive out of Kilah’s tragedy,” she said.
Davenport added she’s ready to see Congress make some progress on the bill.
“I understand that our Congress (members) are busy. I get that, but … people say children are the most important part of our society,” she said. “Either you say what you do and do what you say, or stop using children as a reference.”
Since the incident that left her fighting for her life, Kilah has made significant progress, thanks to dedicated therapists, encouragement from her family and sheer determination, Davenport said.