March 15, 2013

Bills to protect children from sexual exploitation clear first hurdle

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

State lawmakers are attempting to crack down on individuals who perpetrate sex crimes against Indiana minors by passing a series of bills to protect children from sexual exploitation. The bills cleared their first hurdle when they were passed by the Indiana Senate unanimously at the close of the first half of the session. The measures move to the Indiana House for further consideration.

The Indiana Senate voted 47-0 to pass legislation toughening Indiana’s child seduction law.

State Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, author of Senate Bill 53, the child seduction bill, said, “Indiana’s original child seduction law, though clearly well intentioned, was too limited in its scope and not fully protecting those it was designed to help.

“I thank my colleagues for supporting this common-sense initiative to close loopholes in the law, and help stop professionals from engaging in inappropriate conduct with young Hoosiers under their care and guidance.”

The legislation was prompted by a situation involving a 16-year old adopted boy with emotional issues who was abducted by a 39-year-old woman, also the victim’s counselor from whom he was receiving psychological treatment. The two engaged in sexual activity.

Vigo County prosecutor Terry Modessitt, who testified before a Senate panel in support of the legislation, was approached by the boy’s parents who wanted to press charges against the counselor.

To the prosecutor and parents’ surprise, there were no charges to be filed. Indiana’s current child seduction law only makes it illegal for school officials to have relations with minors over the age of 16. In Indiana, the charge of child molestation applies when the child is under the age of 14. Sexual misconduct only applies to teenagers under 16.

Modesitt told lawmakers the only charge that could be filed was “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” which is a misdemeanor. The prosecutor said he was frustrated by the lack of clear laws.

Senate Bill 53 makes it a crime for any adult who has a professional relationship with a 16- or 17-year-old to engage in sexual behavior with the teenager, even though the age of consent in Indiana is 16. The current child seduction law only applies to two specific professions—school officials and military recruiters.

Another measure to protect children from sex crimes expands the human trafficking ban Indiana passed last year.

Senate Bill 509, authored by Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, which passed the Senate by a unanimous vote, builds on the current human trafficking law which was passed last year making it illegal to arrange for a person to participate in any forced sexual act or to arrange for a person younger than 16 to participate in any sexual act.

Waterman said his bill would expand the law’s positive impact by increasing the age of protection from human trafficking to 18. He said this change will better align Indiana’s law with those of other states and the nation.

“Last year’s bill took crucial steps to address human trafficking in our state, and punish the individuals who commit these horrific crimes,” Waterman said. “My bill strengthens the law to provide protection for 16- and 17-year-olds as well, sending a strong message that Indiana will not tolerate this type of activity in our communities.”

Lawmakers placed the human trafficking ban on the fast track toward passage in 2012 because Indianapolis was hosting the Super Bowl and current law didn’t adequately address the problem.

Protecting children from previous sex offenders via the Internet is the aim of another bill passed by the Senate.

Senate Bill 347, authored by Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, would make it illegal for certain sex offenders whose victims were children to communicate with a minor using a social networking site. It also would increase the penalty for child solicitation to a Class B felony if the person solicits a child online, and then travels to meet him or her or if the person is a repeat offender for child solicitation.

“Communication is changing, and more young people are using the Internet to interact with their friends,” Head said. “Because of that, people who intend to harm children are increasingly using social networking to find potential victims and talk to them. Ultimately, this legislation will help keep our kids safe—both on and offline.”

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), who serves as the official spokesman on state and federal issues for the Church in Indiana, is supportive of legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation.

“These bills offer a common-sense approach to protect children from these types of crimes,” he said. “I fully expect the bills to pass the House in the coming weeks, and become law this year.”
 

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. )

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