The Evolution and Unintended Consequences of Legal Responses to
Childhood Sexual Abuse: Seeking Justice and Prevention
By Alexandra Hunstein Roffman*
See I was young, man, I was just a toddler, a kid
And he wasn’t the first to successfully try but he did
. . . .
See it was weird because I felt like I was losing my mind
And then it happened like it happened like millions of times
And I would swear that I would tell but they would think that I was lying
And now the power that he held was like a beacon to mine1
In her song, “Cleaning out My Closet,” rapper Angel Haze explains in graphic detail the
sexual abuse that she suffered as a child at the hands of young men.2 She describes the physical
pain and the lasting emotional pain that affected her relationships with her family and future
partners, her body image, her personality, and her health.3 Haze is not alone in her experience—
one in four women and one in five men in the United States have experienced childhood sexual
abuse.4 In 2012 alone, the United States Department of Health and Human Services reported
62,936 incidents of child sexual abuse.5 The prevalence of this type of abuse has motivated
legislators to improve the amount of protection that the justice system can provide to children.
Child sexual abuse is not a problem only facing the justice system, rather “[i]t is a social issue, a
religious issue, an economic issue, an emotional issue, a political issue, a spiritual issue, a health
issue, an educational issue, a racial issue, a gender issue, and more.”6
In the last twenty years, both federal and state legislators have passed a wide range of
legislation relating to the problem of childhood sexual abuse. Each response has been largely
based on the call of states to reform their laws after a recent tragedy involving one of their
citizens.7 After a series of children were abducted and killed by known abusers, the first wave of
legislative response, from 1990 to 2006, focused on registration and identification of convicted
* Alexandra Hunstein Roffman is a Juris Doctor Candidate, expected to graduate in May 2015 from Loyola University Chicago School
of Law where she is also a CIVITAS ChildLaw Fellow. Ms. Roffman received a B.A. in Communication Studies and German from
Northwestern University. She would like to thank Ben, her parents, and her brother.
1 Angel Haze - Cleaning out My Closet, YOUTUBE (Oct. 23, 2012), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7bZ08RNUyM.
2 Id.; Michael P. Jeffries, How Rap Can Help End Rape Culture, ATLANTIC (Oct. 30, 2012),
3 Angel Haze - Cleaning out My Closet, supra note 1 (“I was afraid of myself, I had no love for myself / I tried to kill, I tried to hide, I
tried to run from myself / . . . I didn’t want to be attractive to nobody else”); Jeffries, supra note 2.
4 MARCI A. HAMILTON, JUSTICE DENIED: WHAT AMERICA MUST DO TO PROTECT ITS CHILDREN 4 (2008).
5 CHILDREN’S BUREAU, U.S. DEP’T OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVS., CHILD MALTREATMENT 2012 21, 39 (2013), available at
6 Eric S. Janus & Emily A. Polachek, A Crooked Picture: Re-Framing the Problem of Child Sexual Abuse, 36 WM. MITCHELL L. REV.
142, 166 (2009) (quoting Robert E. Freeman-Longo, Reducing Sexual Abuse in America: Legislating Tougher Laws or Public
Education and Prevention, 23 NEW. ENG. J. ON CRIM. & CIV. CONFINEMENT 303, 304 (1997)).
7 See Molly J. Walker Wilson, The Expansion of Criminal Registries and the Illusion of Control, 73 LA. L. REV. 509, 515–17 (2013);
J.J. Prescott & Jonah E. Rockoff, Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior?, 54 J.L. & ECON.
161, 162 (2011).