Saturday, April 5, 2014

Guest Post: A 24 year- old volunteer basketball coach molested an adolescent after she took a position of a volunteer high school basketball coach in Montgomery County

We are concerned and disappointed that the Judicial Proceedings Committee, under the leadership of Senator Frosh, has refused to concur with House Judiciary's version of SB 460, Criminal Law -Person in Position - Sexual Offenses.  This means that protections for children will necessarily be weakened since the foremost opponent of the bill, Senator Bobby Zirkin, a defense attorney, has been assigned to be the chairman of the conference committee by Senator Frosh.  The other two Senate conferees are Senator Brochin who has previously supported Senator Zirkin's amendments last year regarding a similar bill and Senator Shank. 

Nevertheless, Senator Raskin predicted in the Gazette that a strong consensus for the bill will emerge from the conference committee.  However, a strong consensus is not the same as a strong bill for children and their parents.  Last session, Senator Zirkin,  sponsored an amendment on a similar bill that would have exempted part-time employees convicted of engaging in sexual contact, sexual act, or vaginal intercourse with students from the sex offender registry. He also sponsored an amendment requiring an eight year gap in age between victim and perpetrator  before a prosecution involving a position of trust could commence, and he created a new defense for perpetrators which had never before been in current law.  It is important for parents and others concerned with the safety of minors to let Senator Zirkin know that parents find these dangerous amendments unacceptable even in light of his threat to kill this important child protection measure.

Not only should we be alert to detrimental amendments that could be added to the bill at the last minute without a hearing on their merits, but parents should tell Senators Frosh, Zikin, Brochin  and Shank that they do not want them to reject reasonable and necessary  protections for children that have already passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously.

Sports or recreational facilities, or programs are  magnets for sex offenders whether or not they obtain their positions of trust supervising youth as volunteers or paid employees. Access to children is what counts.   For example, a 24 year- old volunteer basketball coach molested an adolescent after she took a position of a volunteer high school basketball coach in Montgomery County.  Therefore,  volunteers should not be stripped from the bill.  Nor should individuals under contract with sports and recreation programs and schools.

Also in jeopardy is a provision which allows prosecutors to charge both child sexual abuse, a felony, and a violation of the position of authority statute, a misdemeanor. If that provision is deleted, a child molester who is a educator could not be charged with child sexual abuse, which occurs on campus, if, at the same time, the teacher was charged for engaging in the same behavior with the same child off- campus off- time. This is only one of many unfair protections in current law which need to finally be eliminated.

As one national expert on sexual abuse/assaults in institutions which serve children stated, there is a clear empathy gap in certain individuals when it comes to protecting child and adolescent victims of sexual assault/sexual abuse.  This empathy gap still obstructs humane legislation  in the 21st Century.

How many Sandusky scandals among others does it take to make certain legislators understand that certain coaches can pose serious threats to children that must not be ignored? The focus of public officials should be on welfare of vulnerable children and adolescents and holding accountable adults in positions of public trust who use them for their own sexual gratification.

Of course, the conferees could take a progressive step by raising the current penalty from imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding $1000 or both to the penalty that was originally drafted in the bill. That  penalty called for imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $1000.  It is hard to believe that this extremely modest penalty for what is in actuality child sexual abuse by a person in a position of public trust was rejected.  Egregious crimes should not be minimized by such disproportionate sentences.

We therefore need to immediately ask legislators on the conference committee and their respective chairmen to place children's interests first and foremost in their deliberations. That would be the right thing to do.  Killing the bill or weakening it any more would not be actions that are admirable or just.  If they weaken the bill or kill it we want to know why.

~Concerned Maryland Parents

1 comment:

  1. “The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced”
    Frank Zappa


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