Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Des Moines Register has picked up the story about some of the loopholes in the new sex offender law:
Some single Iowa women have found a loophole in a law that prohibits convicted sex offenders from living with them and their children.

"What's happening now is that they are marrying these guys to get around the law. That's creating some concern," Marshall County Attorney Jennifer Miller said. "Whereas the children had been protected originally, now a lot of these sex offenders are becoming their stepdads."

Neither Miller nor other prosecutors know the extent of the problem, which they say surfaced shortly after the law went into effect July 1 as part of a package of tough sex offender laws that include longer prison sentences and electronic monitors for pedophiles.

The residency law targeted live-in boyfriends with records of sexual abuse against children. If a woman knowingly lived with a person on the sex offender registry, the law says, she and the offender would face child-endangerment charges.

The offense carries a two-year prison term and $5,000 fine. But the law has an exemption: If the offender is the child's parent, he can't be charged.

First off, what is up with that lead sentence? Not "some Iowa sex offenders have discovered a loophole" that allows them to avoid child endangerment charges, it's "some Iowa single women" that are the problem. Excuse me, but I thought the issue was the sex offender living with the kids? I'm not saying that women are not culpable, and I don't advocate exempting them from the statute's effect, but when we talk about the loophole, who should we be focusing on keeping away from the kids, mom or the convicted sex offender?

That aside, at least this will draw more widespread attention to one of the problems we've been warning you about. My quote from June:
However, it raises an interesting new question: you've exempted married sex offenders from the child endangerment/child abuse provisions. Why???? If Trena Gage had decided to get married to Bentley (either one of them) that would've made it all okay??? If two hard-core sex offenders get married, is it not still child endangerment?

This loophole desperately needs to be fixed. If I might add another two cent's worth of an opinion, could you also point out that the sex offender registry is just too broad?

The problem, as I've stated it before, lies in three related code sections:
Iowa law defines indecent exposure as:
709.9 Indecent exposure.
A person who exposes the person's genitals or pubes to another not the person's spouse, or who commits a sex act in the presence of or view of a third person, commits a serious misdemeanor, if:
1. The person does so to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either party; and
2. The person knows or reasonably should know that the act is offensive to the viewer.

Note this is broad enough to include someone "mooning" out a car window as a prank, people who go skinny dipping who and caught by some old fart with binoculars, or a couple of horny kids without a dorm room to go to, who have sex in some public park or car and accidentally get caught.

(In fact, that second prong might even include those who are having sex or masturbate in their own home, if the blinds aren't drawn. If they are in view of a third person walking by on the street, whether they realize they're being watched or not, and they "reasonably should have known" that someone seeing them would be offended by it, then they're arguably guilty.)
Persons required to register under the sex offender registry in Iowa include the following:
692A.2 Persons required to register.
1. A person who has been convicted of a criminal offense against a minor, an aggravated offense, sexual exploitation, an other relevant offense, or a sexually violent offense in this state or in another state, or in a federal, military, tribal, or foreign court, or a person required to register in another state under the state's sex offender registry , shall register as provided in this chapter. A person required to register under this chapter shall, upon a first conviction, register for a period of ten years . . .

On first blush, that doesn't seem to cover the mooners, skinny dippers or horny teenagers. I mean, it's not an aggravated offense, or an offense against a minor or anything. The language here implies we're only dealing with serious crimes. But wait . . . there's that pesky "other related offense." What's that about?
7. "Other relevant offense" means any of the following offenses:
a. Telephone dissemination of obscene materials in violation of section 728.15 .
b. Rental or sale of hard-core pornography in violation of section 728.4 .
c. Indecent exposure in violation of section 709.9

This means that upon conviction of an indecent exposure, the mooners, the skinny dippers, the horny kids, and so forth will find themselves on the sex offender registry for ten years.

The solution I advocated in June is to set up a two-tier law that distinguishes the abusers and dangerous sex offenders from a run-of-the-mill mooner, and then rip out the marital loophole altogether. It seems to make sense, and would preclude most of the problems inherent with the new laws.

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