House Committee Approves Stronger Penalties for Sex Offenses Against Minors

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WASHINGTON - Despite pointed criticism from some lawmakers, the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a bipartisan bill that pushes for harsher penalties for people convicted of sex offenses against minors under 12 and authorizes millions of dollars to fight Internet crimes against children.

Sponsored by committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the Child Protection Act of 2012 (H.R. 6063) calls for $60 million a year until 2018 for task forces working to investigate Internet crimes against children. It also reinforces the need for the U.S. Justice Department to appoint a senior official as a national coordinator for child exploitation prevention and interdiction, a position first created by the PROTECT Our Children Act by Congress in 2008.

In addition, the bill widens protections for child witnesses who may be subject to intimidation or harassment, doubles to $4 million the cap on funds available to train Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, and gives U.S. Marshals the power to issue administrative subpoenas to investigate unregistered sex offenders.

Smith introduced similar legislation last year but it did not reach the full House floor for a vote. That legislation, called the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, was criticized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association for its wide-ranging implications for online privacy.

As many as 100,000 sex offenders remain unregistered and at large in the United States, their whereabouts unknown, Smith said in his prepared introductory remarks (link to) at the committee’s session Tuesday morning.

“Today, Internet child pornography may be the fastest growing crime in America, increasing an average of 150 percent per year,” Smith said. “Every day these online criminals prey on our children with virtual anonymity.”

Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.) put up some lively opposition, saying that parts of the bill duplicated the protections offered by existing statutes. Their most strenuous objections came in response to provisions that expanded the authority of law enforcement and that appeared to weaken legal protections for people who had been accused of sex crimes but who were innocent.

They especially expressed concern about the provision broadening the authority of U.S. Marshals to issue administrative subpoenas for unregistered sex offenders, a power that Conyers called unacceptable and unnecessary.

“What is an administrative subpoena? It’s a subpoena that the government does not have to go to court to affectuate,” Conyers said.

But the biggest objection raised by Conyers, Scott, Watt and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) was that the Child Protection Act appears to require persons accused of sex offenses to prove their innocence, shifting the legal burden of proof away from prosecutors, a move they called “unprecedented.”

“We have to protect the victims of crime but we have to do it in a thoughtful and deliberative way,” Scott said. “Do we want to reverse the burden of proof in this or any other case without some very, very careful examination?”

Such a provision violated the Fifth Amendment, Nadler said. “What possible justification is there for shifting the burden of proof in a criminal offense and for saying you’re guilty until proven innocent?” he asked Smith. “It seems to me unconstitutional as well as obnoxious.”

“The idea here is to protect the children and to protect the victims,” Smith replied.

Ultimately, all three amendments offered by Scott to address these objections failed to pass.

Thirty-one representatives from both parties co-sponsored the bill, which is also supported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), among others.

H.R. 6063 will now head to the full House for a vote. Only about 4 percent of bills that are introduced by federal legislators ever become law, according to this 2009 analysis by OpenCongress.org.

Photo from Digitaltrends.

2 thoughts on “House Committee Approves Stronger Penalties for Sex Offenses Against Minors

  1. For several years now we have seen laws passed based on knee-jerk reactions to horrible cases of child sexual abuse resulting in murder. Megan’s Law, Jacob’s Law and Chelsea’s Law for example. Oddly enough, these laws and current House Bill H.R. 6063, The Child Protection Act of 2012 do nothing to protect children. The only way to accomplish that is to be proactive instead of always in a reactive mode. This bill pushes for harsher penalties with regard to sexual offenses against minors and CALLS FOR money that America does not have to chase after a “proposed silver bullet” of safety. Have we not learned anything from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Penn State cover-up?
    There are children 14 and 16 years of age and young men 18 and 20 getting caught-up in child pornography, mostly out of curiosity and the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country and Lamar Smith wants to incarcerate even more!
    Proactive measures would include devising education programs for parents, children and teens to teach them ways they can stay safe. Empowering them with regard to what is appropriate and not. Educate parents about the internet and monitoring their children’s activities. Facebook is now going to cater to younger children. Again education is where the money should be spent instead of paying the private prison industry to build and maintain more prisons at a guaranteed 90% fill rate.
    There are currently more than 760,000 men, women and children required to register as sex offenders across the states. Their lives are ruined as well as over 2,000,000 wives, children, mothers, girlfriends, grandmothers, and other loved ones who suffer the collateral damage of the registry by being harassed, beaten, children ridiculed, houses burned, cars vandalized, signs placed in their yard, flyers distributed around the neighborhood, friends not allowed to visit, asked to leave their church and many other things all because they are trying to keep their family intact and help their registrant reintegrate into society which documented studies prove deters recidivism.
    We, the people of America, strongly suggest that those in Congress DO NOT support this bill or anything in it. To be specific, giving the U.S. Marshals the Administrative Subpoena authority to act without the authorization of a judge AND placing the burden of innocence on the accused. If enacted, we would be giving away what little Constitutional rights we have left.
    The voting records, sponsorship and co-sponsorship of this bill and future bills which destroy families in the erroneous name of “protecting children” will be monitored and we will remind Congress it is time to get real!

    Vicki Henry
    Women Against Registry

  2. Women Against Registry is focused on bringing awareness to the collateral damage suffered by the families of registered former sexual offenders. For years we have endured law after law being passed to criminalize what began in California in the 1930s as a registry of 11 types of offenses and is now raised to more than 189 “crimes!”
    While proponents of the sex offender registry scramble to find even one case where the registry has protected a child, the children of registrants, numbering into the hundreds of thousands, suffer daily. One study found the following:
    When asked, children of registrants stated that because their family member was listed in the public registry:
    47% had suffered harassment by others
    59% were ridiculed by others
    52% suffered teasing by others
    22% were physically attacked by others
    65% feel left out with other children
    77% suffer depression
    73% feel anxiety
    63% suffer from fear
    13% have suicidal tendencies
    80% have anger issues
    When you read statistics like these we have to ask:
    Are we neglecting the welfare of these children or perhaps much worse, encouraging such behavior leading to children becoming social outcasts due to the public registry.
    We must demand more education and fewer laws!