Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Tougher penalties urged for child sexual abuse

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By HYONHEE SHIN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Lawmakers are pushing to increase penalties for child sexual abuse, including a focus on Internet crimes related to child pornography.

The proposal by Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, would toughen sentencing by totaling each depiction of a child who was placed in danger of abuse, physical injury or death.

“It would allow persons with multiple images stored on their computers to be scored differently than someone with just a few child porn pictures,” said Lori, referring to the way sentences are calculated. “The higher score for multiple images would lead to a longer jail or prison term.”

The goal is to enhance the current law’s lack of clarity and to provide more directed sentencing guidelines, said co-sponsor Rep. John Proos, R-St. Joseph.

“It’d help prosecutors bringing charges handle those crimes,” said Proos. “Continuing use of Internet trafficking of sexually abusive material is horrific for our society.”

The bill’s other co-sponsors are Reps. Lesia Liss, D-Warren; John Walsh, R-Livonia; Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge; Sharon Tyler, R-Niles; Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck; Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt; Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City; Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights; and Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake.

According to the Children’s Protective Services in the Department of Human Services, there were 29,638 substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in Michigan from Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008. That reflects a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year.

Also, the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund said that more than 337 child abuse and neglect complaints were reported every day in 2008. Nationally, four children die each day as a result of child abuse.

Shannon Stotenbur-Wing, director of Michigan Child Death Review Program in Okemos, said child abuse cases don’t often lead to death — but there have been fatal injuries.

“Child abuse usually has a pattern so it occurs repeatedly over years and years,” she said. “Increasing the penalty for those who are convicted of child abuse itself is not enough to prevent future activities.”

“The people do have to be penalized for doing that, but there need to be areas where mental health and psychological treatments are provided, because they tend to abuse themselves too,” said Stotenbur-Wing.

A 2005 study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that 40 percent of arrested child pornography possessors had both sexually victimized children and possessed child pornography, meaning they were “dual offenders.” Another 15 percent of dual offenders tried to victimize children by soliciting undercover investigators who posed as minors online.

In a Michigan criminal case last year, Kenneth Miller of Iron River was sentenced to more than 33 years in federal prison for child exploitation crimes.

Miller pleaded guilty to transporting, receiving and producing child pornography. He also used a hidden camera to produce pornographic images of an underage girl, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lori, who was St. Joseph County sheriff for 20 years, said such crimes are a serious issue in all areas of the state.

“While statistics may show child sexual exploitation crimes going down, some of that hopefully is due to new changes in the law, but crimes are still out there,” he said.

St. Joseph County Commissioner Rick Shaffer said he supports stronger penalties for such crimes.

“We certainly need to step up,” he said. “I wouldn’t say our numbers are particularly high, but it’s more important to continue education to the public and make sure all the cases are reported, for consequences of individuals involving the crimes.”

The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

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