MARY MEAUX — Now is the time for a new law addressing child abusers

Published 12:06 am Thursday, April 20, 2023

Advocates for children say it is time for a new state statute covering continuous physical abuse of a child.

If such a law were passed it would mean a stricter penalty for parents or caregivers of children who continuously abuse a child.

Marion Tanner, executive director with the Garth House, said on average they would see 500 cases. That number jumped drastically with the implementation of a new law.

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“In 2017, the State of Texas put a new law into place,” Tanner said. “The law states that if a professional reports a case of abuse that meets the interviewing criteria of a Children’s Advocacy Center, the child has to be interviewed at the CAC first. This has increased the number of interviews to over 900 per year.”

Garth House serves as a child advocacy center covering six counties. They provide a safe place to interview the alleged victims of severe abuse and/or sexual abuse.

Continuous physical abuse of a child isn’t always noticed during the first incident. Randi King, chief prosecutor with the Family Law Division in the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, has been handling these types of cases for more than 25 years.

“I can’t tell you how many times we had a child come into the hospital for a serious injury like a broken femur, and when they are stable enough, a whole body scan is done and you can see fractures in various stages of healing throughout their body,” King said. “I’ve seen children with lash marks across their back in different stages of healing.”

King said many times they do not find out about continuous abuse until it’s happened multiple times. A teacher may notice a child flinches when their arm is touched, ask the child to show them their arm and see something like a lash mark on it.

The child will go to the Garth House to tell his or her story and are asked about the incident. The response is, “which time?”

Another example is when a child is asked to show where it hurts.

“I see these photos of fully healed marks. I see scars, some that are raised. Then I see fresh wounds that are actually from an extension cord or belt that cut the skin so hard (it made marks). And you know it is from different times. It’s not across their bottoms, it’s across the backs,” Tanner said.

Sometimes children can’t tell the advocate exactly when an incident occurred, but when it’s continuous they can tell when it started and from there the advocate or investigator can get a time frame for the abuse.

“You see videos where kids get in there and start talking about what happened recently and say ‘this happened, too,’” she said.

Tanner said they also see a lot of local children who run away from home, possibly to get away from abusive situations or are tired of their parent/caregiver selling drugs. Then with “one click on social media” they find themselves entangled with trafficking and other issues.

“We are seeing them,” Tanner said. “People say ‘oh, this is the kids coming across the border.’ That hasn’t hit yet. Right now it’s our local kids.”

There are 70 advocacy centers in the State and more than 900 in the U.S.

“What is wrong with our society that we need that many people involved,” she said.

Shari Pulliam with Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said she is in favor of “anything to help prosecute the perpetrators that cause physical damage to our most precious population; our children.”

There is a dire need for a law creating stricter penalties for people who are guilty of continuous physical abuse of a child.

Mary Meaux is a news reporter at The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at