By Sean Cruz
Portland, Oregon—Each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 100,000 American children experience the trauma of abduction by a parent, a family member or other persons known to the victim.
Some children are abducted back and forth repeatedly, others disappear forever.
Existing state and federal laws have proven to be inadequate to deal with the problem, as the staggering numbers attest.
In all cases, the harm to the child victim is so severe that the best strategy is to prevent the abduction from taking place in the first place.
Aaron’s Law, passed by the Oregon legislature in 2005, is designed to achieve two goals: (1) discourage child abduction by providing financial sanctions against the perpetrators and requiring them to attend counseling sessions to better understand the harm they are inflicting; and, (2) provide relief to the victims with court-appointed mental health and legal professionals assigned to protect the child.
Aaron’s Law authorizes the court to assess the costs of the professional services to the perpetrators, which ought to serve as an additional discouragement.
Oregon is the first state in the union to take this approach, which is independent of either the criminal or the traditional family court processes.
The full text of Aaron’s Law follows:
Senate Bill 1041 (2005) AARON’S LAW (for Aaron Cruz)
Sponsored by Senator Avel Gordly
CHAPTER 841 Oregon Revised statutes
AN ACT Relating to custodial interference; and declaring an emergency.
Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:
SECTION 1. (1) Any of the following persons may bring a civil action to secure damages against any and all persons whose actions are unlawful under ORS 163.257 (1)(a):
(a) A person who is 18 years of age or older and who has been taken, enticed or kept in violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a); or
(b) A person whose custodial rights have been interfered with if, by reason of the interference:
(A) The person has reasonably and in good faith reported a person missing to any city, county or state police agency; or
(B) A defendant in the action has been charged with a violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a).
(2) An entry of judgment or a certified copy of a judgment against the defendant for a violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a) is prima facie evidence of liability if the plaintiff was injured by the defendant’s unlawful action under the conviction.
(3)(a) For purposes of this section, a public or private entity that provides counseling and shelter services to victims of domestic violence is not considered to have violated ORS 163.257 (1)(a) if the entity provides counseling or shelter services to a person who violates ORS 163.257 (1)(a).
(b) As used in this subsection, “victim of domestic violence” means an individual against whom domestic violence, as defined in ORS 135.230, 181.610, 411.117 or 657.176, has been committed.
(4) Bringing an action under this section does not prevent the prosecution of any criminal action under ORS 163.257.
(5) A person bringing an action under this section must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that a violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a) has occurred.
(6) It is an affirmative defense to civil liability for an action under this section that the defendant reasonably and in good faith believed that the defendant’s violation of ORS 163.257(1)(a) was necessary to preserve the physical safety of: (a) The defendant; (b) The person who was taken, enticed or kept in violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a); or (c) The parent or guardian of the person who was taken, enticed or kept in violation of
ORS 163.257 (1)(a).
(7)(a) If the person taken, enticed or kept in violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a) is under 18 years of age at the time an action is brought under this section, the court may:
(A) Appoint an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Oregon to act as guardian ad litem for the person; and
(B) Appoint one of the following persons to provide counseling services to the person:
(i) A psychiatrist.
(ii) A psychologist licensed under ORS 675.010 to 675.150.
(iii) A clinical social worker licensed under ORS 675.510 to 675.600.
(iv) A professional counselor or marriage and family therapist licensed under ORS 675.715.
(b) The court may assess against the parties all costs of the attorney or person providing counseling services appointed under this subsection.
(8) If an action is brought under this section by a person described under subsection (1)(b) of this section and a party shows good cause that it is appropriate to do so, the court may order the parties to obtain counseling directed toward educating the parties on the impact that the parties’ conflict has on the person taken, enticed or kept in violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a). The court may assess against the parties all costs of obtaining counseling ordered under this subsection.
(9) Upon prevailing in an action under this section, the plaintiff may recover: (a) Special and general damages, including damages for emotional distress; and (b) Punitive damages.
(10) The court may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party in an action under this section.
(11)(a) Notwithstanding ORS 12.110, 12.115, 12.117 or 12.160, an action under this section must be commenced within six years after the violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a). An action under this section accruing while the person who is entitled to bring the action is under 18 years of age must be commenced not more than six years after that person attains 18 years of age.
(b) The period of limitation does not run during any time when the person taken, enticed or kept in violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a) is removed from this state as a result of the defendants actions in violation of ORS 163.257 (1)(a).
SECTION 2. Section 1 of this 2005 Act applies to causes of action arising on or after the effective date of this 2005 Act.
SECTION 3. This 2005 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is declared to exist, and this 2005 Act takes effect on its passage.
Passed by Senate August 1, 2005
Passed by House August 3, 2005
Approved by Governor: October 13, 2005
Filed in Office of Secretary of State:
Aaron’s Law may apply to any Oregon child abduction occurring after the date the Governor signed the bill into law.
Aaron Cruz was kidnapped along with his brother and two sisters on February 12, 1996 and concealed in various locations in Oregon, Washington and Utah.