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NC5 Investigates: Stories of Abuse

Lawmakers Hear Jenna's Story, Promise Change

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Jenna's mother, Julie Staehling, addresses lawmakers Jenna's mother, Julie Staehling, addresses lawmakers
Jenna Jenna
Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin
Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Seiverville Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Seiverville

Imagine your child was sexually assaulted on a school bus - but the school wouldn't tell you everything that happened.

That's the story the mother of a young autistic girl told a legislative committee Monday.

It was powerful testimony that could prompt big changes.

Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams first told us of Jenna's story -- and lawmakers invited her mom to Capitol Hill to share her story.

And the story she told had the lawmakers -- parents and grandparents themselves -- asking how they can keep this from every happening again.

"In October of 2006, my daughter was the victim of a sexual assault on a school bus ride home," Julie Staehling said, her voice cracking, as she addressed the legislature's Select Committee on Children and Youth.

Staehling told lawmakers that she and her husband didn't want to sue the Metro school system.

After they realized Jenna had been molested by a fellow student, all they wanted was to figure out what happened on the bus that their 11-year-old daughter could not tell them.

"Our main goal after the assault occurred was to find out exactly what happened to her so that we could get her the medical and/or psychological help that she needed," Staehling explained.

But agency after agency told them they couldn't talk to them about their own daughter -- supposedly because of federal and state confidentiality laws.

Yet, tapes from Jenna's school bus held a secret that was kept from her parents.

"Thus a lawsuit had to be filed, the information requested in discovery, and eight months later after viewing the tapes, we found out that she had been assaulted numerous times," Jenna's mother remembered.

Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, responded, "I cannot imagine someone that's in a position of authority, seeing a tape and not having taken immediate action."

In fact, education and child protective officials told lawmakers that they knew of no law that requires parents to be notified and that state laws may actually require them to kept incident reports secret from the victim's own parents.

Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Seiverville, was shocked. "This is a parent that this child belongs to them -- and should know everything about that child."

Black added, "Confidentiality is one thing, but when we hide behind confidentiality at the potential damage of a child, we all ought to be ashamed."

As a result, the lawmakers say Jenna's story is a story that doesn't need to be repeated.

Now Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, has filed legislation to make sure that what happened to Jenna's family doesn't happen to other families. The committee will work out the details at an upcoming meeting.

Watch more videos and follow the stories at NC5 Investigates: Stories of Abuse

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