Good morning, my name is Patty Wetterling.
I am a mother, teacher and child advocate from Minnesota. On October 22, seventeen years ago, my son Jacob was abducted. Jacob is still missing. As I talk to you today I am as concerned as ever about the safety of all of our children.
This week, we all watched in shock and with deep sadness as violence hit our schools and the security of classrooms was violated — and we watched in anger as yet another scandal broke in Washington.
In Colorado, Pennsylvania, here in Minnesota and across the country, we need to be able to tell our children that they are safe when we kiss them goodbye or put them on a school bus in the morning. Our schools must be a safe place for every child.
Seventeen years ago, I committed my self and my work to strengthening penalties for those who harm children and to stopping the sexual exploitation of children. The terrible reality of child sexual abuse is that it almost always involves someone that the child knows. As was the case with Congressman Foley.
Foley sent obvious predatory signals, received loud and clear by members of the congressional leadership, who swept them under the rug to protect their political power.
If a teacher did this and the principal was told but did nothing, once the community found out, that principal would be fired.
If this happened in a church and the minister received information and he did nothing, he'd be fired.
Congressional leaders shouldn't be held to a lower standard than what we expect of our community leaders.
Too often, even well-intentioned people stand by when there is a suspicion of child abuse because they don't know what to do and they hope that the problem will just stop or go away. Too often, there is more concern over protecting an institution than protecting our children. That is precisely what happened here.
Secrecy is the common ingredient in all child sexual abuse. When we have reason to believe someone is sexually abusing a child, we must act. When a child has the courage to come forward, we must not become part of the secret. We must make the protection of our children the highest priority.
Our nation's children and their parents don't deserve to endure fear in our schools and it is wrong to make children endure fear within the halls of Congress.
We need to get our priorities straight when it comes to protecting children. Prevention is more than educating children to protect themselves — it is fundamental change that requires investment in promoting the healthy development of our children and doing all we can to protect them and prevent harm.
My prayers are with all the families who are suffering because of the tragedies of the past week. I admire the courage of the victims who, in speaking up, inspire us all to do more. My family joins me in offering a prayer today for their continued strength, and for the support of their communities to see them through this dark time, as our community has done since Jacob was taken from us.
We need a new direction in Congress because our children need strong voices. We need to stop the sexual exploitation of children across the country, and in Washington we must hold accountable all those complicit in allowing this victimization to happen.
I have called for an independent investigation and the immediate expulsion of any member of Congress involved in covering up the actions of their colleague.
For seventeen years, I have fought for tough penalties for those who harm children. Members of Congress are not and should not be above the law. We need a full and complete investigation with unfettered access to emails, records and correspondence and subpoena power over members, leadership and staff.
We need to restore integrity to Congress, integrity that was further damaged by Congressional leadership's silence. We need a new direction to restore the trust we've lost.
We've instituted safeguards at schools and nationwide alert systems, but we need to do more return the peace of mind that we've lost.
We cannot change the way Washington operates until we change the people we send there.
We need to ensure that members of Congress understand the reality of sexual exploitation of children in America. This is not a problem that can be swept under the rug. This is not about "overly friendly" relationships between adults and children this is about ways children are too often viewed as sexual objects. And this is not about partisan politics. Protecting our children is not a Democratic or Republican issue — it is an American issue that we are all concerned about.
This is about the safety of children — mine and yours. How we address this appalling situation impacts every child, every parent, and every institution in this country. Adults must be accountable for the well being of our children. Parents, please take the time to talk to your children about personal safety. We can and we must do better.
My prayers continue to be with every child and every family involved in this tragic situation, that their faith will sustain them in this difficult time.
I'm Patty Wetterling, and I thank you for listening.