Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sexual assault victims: GPS, residency restrictions, and 25-year minimums in Jessica's Laws won't help

I hope every Texas senator reads the position statement on the website of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault before voting on HB 8 (aka "Jessica's Law," see prior Grits coverage linked here). TAASA comes out in opposition to three proposals commonly put forward by proponents, supposedly, as ways to PROTECT victims of sexual assault. But according to TAASA's position statement (pointed out by a helpful reader):
While Jessica’s Law varies from state to state, several core components of the law remain the same. These include:
  • Twenty-five year mandatory minimum sentences for any offender that rapes a child under a certain age (typically 11-14)
  • Electronically monitor sex offenders for life through Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
  • Create 2,000 foot Predator Free Zones surrounding all parks and schools
Initially, these proposals may seem to carry merit, but after closer examination all three have flaws so serious that their implementation may result in communities that are less safe.
Typically anytime the Victims Rights folks and criminal justice reform advocates like ACLU both oppose an idea, it's probably a really bad one, for many different reasons, or at least it's worth a second (or third) look. That's certanly the case at this point with House Bill 8, which contains two of the three provisions TAASA identified as potentially making victims less safe.

Go read the rest. Like TAASA, I'm especially opposed to adding a 25-year minimum, especially when it's only on these "continuous abuse" cases. Now every politician in the state will go home and run campaign ads on the TV saying child molesters will get 25 years because of their vote. So the public will think that's the penalty, however the bill is actually crafted. Leaving it at a regular second or first degree felony (2-20 or 5-99) leaves the assessment of the lengthiest sentences in the hands of a judge or jury.

The GPS tracking and residency restrictions opposed by TAASA are cumbersome, stupid, and create hardships on ex-offenders that encourage recidivism instead of helping them rehabilitate and succeed, so I oppose them, too. But those are not immediately dangerous to victims the way that mandatory minimums are. There will be families who don't report Grandpa because the 25-year minimum would be a life sentence. If that happens, or rather, when it does, where will these preening legislators be then?


Anonymous said...

The "preening legislators" will all have acute whiplash from patting themselves on the back. Few of them have or will study any factual papers done by therapists who work with ssex offenders routinely. They are content to listen to the hysterical media, or jump on the bandwagon with a political party friend, or to feed into the mass hysteria perpetuated by the current feeding frenzy, all at the expense of so-called sex offenders. I say so-called for I believe the state of Texas has more than a few innocent men incarcerated as sex offenders. It is not necessary to have DNA evidence to sentence a man to life in prison in this state. It can be done solely on the testimony of a scorned woman or a well coached child. Physical evidence isn't necessary and recants are ignored by state officials. The arrest, trial and subsequent sentencing of alleged sex offenders should make every man in this state quake in his boots. He could be next!

Anonymous said...

Virtually all of the national child abuse prevention groups oppose the residency restrictions. That opposition is based on the fact that there is no statistical relationship between place of residence and assaults. A child is far more likely to be assaulted by a parent, family member, or family friend than by the registered offender living down the street - most of whom do not commit repeat offenses. Further, the imposition of additional restrictions after a conviction clearly violates the constitutional prohibitions against double jeopardy and ex post facto, despite the AG's recent politicized opinion. Fortunately, the companion bills currently before the Jurisprudence Committee appear to reflect some recognition that the constitution still in fact does apply in Texas and would affect only cases tried after Sept 07, rather than requiring courts and parole boards to reopen cases previously adjudicated - and cases where the sentence has already been served. These restriction are nothing more than smoke and mirrors; creating the impression of a problem and then, magically, coming up with a solution for which our elected officials can pat themselves on the back, while accomplishing nothing.

Mariamariacuchita said...

Excellent footwork there, grits! You wrote this up very succinctly and I couldn't agree more.

As you know, TAASA is the Association for over 80 rape crisis centers in Texas. They also work with and train law enforcement all over the State. Their work reflects advocacy and sensitivity for victims and their families.

This is an excellent and well-thought out position paper on the unintended consequences of Jessica's Law. :)

Anonymous said...

I applaud the legislators for passing this bill. I disagree that this bill will by itself adversely affect the victims. If a family is afraid to report a family rapist because of a 25-year penalty, they would also have an issue with protecting the rapist before the stiffer legistlation was passed. In other words, a family is already going to be reluctant to report their own family member in many cases. If because of a stiffer penalty they choose not to report them, that is their choice- one that cannot be blamed on a just penalty. They should be blamed for protecting the guilty rather than the innocent is the problem- not the legislated justice. I am excited at the deterrent this law will be for the rapist. If that means that those reported are not family members but those strangers breaking into homes, we can rejoice that justice will be done against those rapists. And after society sees it enforced, it will certainly become a deterrent. Many say the death penalty has never been proven to be a deterrent. They have never studied its application in other nations that do impose it. Our nation has never applied it consistently and uniformly enough to see its deterrence. Indeed, even a parent who inconsistenly disciplines their children do not see a deterrence to their disobedience. Parenting 101 says consistency is required for discipline to work. Furthermore, the fact that there may be innocents convicted should never deter us from passing any laws. If that were our logic, we should not even put people in prison, for we could accidentally imprison an innocent person, which itself is a great injustice. No, we pass just laws because it establishes justice and deters, and we address the injust applications of those laws as well. But we don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

SB said...

Our sex offender laws are based on stranger attacks and don't apply to 90% of incidents.
There are so many children being molested and this is no answer. Here's why.
"I am 10 years old, my daddy is doing bad things to me and nobody cares. I can't tell a trusted adult because they will tell and I won't trust them anymore.
Twenty years in prison would make me 30 years old when he gets out! The kids always get sent to foster homes and I sure would miss my mom and dad."
This child, like most others, know that there will be a better way out. Eight years pass and she walks out the door. As she goes through life she sees the she was thankful that she took the "private" 8 year option over the "Public" one of 20-25 years. That was my life and I surely was not alone.

Look, I don't know what the answers are. If we ever get it right the children will come out. People are not interested in the kids but everyone wants in on the punishment. Debbie Riddle says that those who aren't willing to give up a loved one for 20 years deserves whatever they get. If I had it to do again I would not even consider telling. It is a damned witch hunt out here.