Local girl’s story drives federal child abuse bill

INDIAN TRAIL – One local 4-year-old girl is changing the nation.

Kilah Davenport (left) is still recovering from abuse last year which left her severely injured.

Over the past year, Kilah Davenport’s story – one of hope in the midst of tragedy – has touched North Carolina citizens and motivated elected officials to fight for harsher punishments for child abusers. Now officials are ready to take this fight to the federal level.

At a press conference in Indian Trail last week, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents North Carolina’s ninth congressional district and much of Union County, formally announced the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act of 2013. If passed, the federal legislation would require states to punish child abusers who inflict serious injury with a minimum prison sentence of 10 years. States that don’t meet this requirement would lose federal funding for child abuse prevention programs.

The legislation is named after Kilah, who suffered serious injuries after her stepfather allegedly beat her severely last May. Upon arrival at the hospital, the then 3-year-old wasn’t expected to live more than 48 hours but has since slowly and steadily recovered.

“When the doctors first examined Kilah, we were told to go ahead and make funeral arrangements ‘cause there was no possibility that she could survive the amount of damage that was done to her,” Kirbi Davenport, Kilah’s mom, said.

She added, “During the more than two months we spent in the hospital … we realized that Kilah was going to be a lucky one. This is when we decided that Kilah would no longer be considered a victim, but she was a survivor.”

Upon finding out Kilah’s stepfather, Joshua Houser, could serve as few as four years in prison if convicted of the crime, activist Jeff Gerber decided to take action. Gerber, who heads up the Justice for All Coalition, began working with N.C.

Rep. Craig Horn, also of Union County, to establish Kilah’s Law – N.C. legislation that would require convicted child abusers who inflict serious injury to serve a prison sentence of 25 years to life. The N.C. House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill last month and it’s currently in N.C. Senate appropriations, awaiting a vote.

But Gerber and Kilah’s family weren’t satisfied with the idea of simply focusing on North Carolina and ignoring 49 other states, so they began working with Pittenger to draft a federal bill that was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives last month.

“You know, I’m a father of four … I’m a grandfather of seven grandchildren, and there is nothing that I could be doing in the U.S. Congress that I think would be more relevant or more important for families throughout this country,” Pittenger said.

Pittenger didn’t give a timeline for when a vote may take place or when the bill might be introduced to the U.S. Senate, but did say one year would be a realistic time frame for passing the bill into law.

Kilah’s family knows the law won’t apply to Houser if he’s convicted, but they’re eager to fight for other families who’ve endured similar hardships.

“… This epidemic of child abuse (reaches) far out from our state,” Davenport said. “We have a nationwide problem. I am well aware no new legislation will pertain to my case, but that’s OK ‘cause if we can save the life of just one child, it’s all worth it.”

Knowing how hard it is for families to rearrange their lives because of debilitating child abuse, the Davenports also plan to reach out to these families through the recently launched nonprofit Kilah Davenport Foundation. The nonprofit will provide financial assistance and education so families can handle the challenges of adapting to a new way of life following child abuse.

Find out more about the nonprofit on its Facebook page, “Kilah Davenport Foundation,” or call 704-455-9846.

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