Dead children everywhere will surely appreciate this bold move on their behalf.
WASHINGTON — President Clinton, taking new steps to combat violence against children, today proposed defining murder to include the death of a child resulting from a pattern of abuse.
"It's time to send a message through the court that when a man assaults or kills someone in the presence of a child he has committed not one horrendous act but two," the president said.
"Time to ask why a bank robber who unintentionally kills an innocent bystander can be charged with felony murder but a repeat child abuser who unintentionally kills a child cannot be."
The president, who announced his "Children Exposed to Violence Initiative" in a Roosevelt Room ceremony with law enforcement officials, said a child who experiences serious violence is 50 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile and nearly 40 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult. They also are at greater risk for substance abuse, mental illness and suicide.
"If you want to keep the crime rates going down, you have to do more to break the cycle of violence to which children are exposed," he said.
The president's initiative has four main parts:
—The Justice Department will propose legislation that would make it easier for federal prosecutors to prove a felony murder charge involving the death of a child without having to prove it was premeditated. It also will propose defining murder to include the death of a child resulting from a pattern of abuse and set criminal penalties for committing acts of violence against others in the presence of a child.
—Giving additional training to police, prosecutors, investigators and court personnel in ways to avoid unnecessary trauma and emotional stress on child victims and witnesses in abuse cases.
—Helping states and communities develop projects that involve mental health professionals and other members of the community in responding to children involved in violent situations and educating parents about abuse and neglect. To get this started, Clinton is making available $10 million in "Safe Start" grants from the Justice Department to help 12 cities reduce the impact of violence on young children.
—Increase public awareness of the problem. The Justice Department will sponsor a national "summit" conference on children and violence in May 1999 to bring together experts in law enforcement, mental health, child development and related fields to discuss the issue of child victimization.
About one-third of all victims of violent crime in the United States are teen-agers, according to White House figures. Also, an additional 2.8 million children are abused or neglected each year, and almost 9 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 have witnessed serious violence.