It is a scandal that has tainted the greatest American sports. From Penn State football to Syracuse basketball, high-profile sexual abuse cases have brought child abuseo the forefront of the national consciousness.
Now the Senate is looking for ways federally mandated programs to prevent these abuses that often persist unreported for years.
On Tuesday, Canadian hockey star Sheldon Kennedy, who was sexually abused by his junior league coach for five years, urged the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families to confront this "nightmare" by instituting training programs for coaches, teachers and mentors who work with children.
"Too often, society's response to child abuse is to focus on punishing the criminal," Kennedy said in his written testimony. "Punishing the bad guys makes us feel good, but it does not fully solve the problem."
Kennedy's testimony comes the same day that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is accused sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, waived his right a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence for a trial.
"While many have been shocked by the recent child sexual abuse, unfortunately, I'm not surprised," said subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who worked as a child neglect social worker before being elected to the Senate.
"There's nothing more troubling than a child who's been physically, sexually or emotionally abused, then abused again because of the failure for adults that they turn to who either don't listen and rebuff and reject them or who do listen but in order to protect the brand of an institution or the reputation of a team, don't report it," said Mikulski, D-Md. "They abide by a cover-up of silence, a conspiracy of silence so the child is doubly victimized."
In spite of the recent uptick in high-profile child sex abuse cases, a study released by the Department of Health and Human Services today shows that reported cases of abuse have actually decreased over the last five years. The report estimates that 130,000 fewer children were victimized in 2010 than in 2006.
About 9.2 percent of the 695,000 child abuses cases reported in 2010 were from sexual abuse. Slightly more than78 percent of the victims suffered neglect and almost 18 percent endured physical abuse, according to the report.
"We have work to do," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said at today's hearing, adding that the current law is "extremely weak."
"After 9/11 our nation reached a consensus. That consensus was no one would ever sit passively on an airplane as a terrorist tried to take it over," Boxer said. "Now our nation needs to reach a consensus that we will never ever every turn a blind eye against an innocent child. We have to defend our kids. Otherwise we are failing as human beings and we are failing as legislators."