Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sex and Other Signs of Abuse

Thanks to Blogger, I'm a bit late joining the discussion (here, here, and here) about the latest legislative adventure from Missouri.

Rep. Richard Byrd, R-Kirkwood, has introduced HB 580, AN ACT To repeal section 210.115, RSMo, and to enact in lieu thereof one new section relating to child abuse and neglect reports. [I'm not familiar with the repeal/enact procedures, but it seems odd to repeal section 210.115 and replace it with...section 210.115. Shouldn't there be an indication that a change has been made?]

Briefly, the bill deals with the reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect:

If a person with responsibility for the care of children has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or may be subjected to abuse or neglect or observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in abuse or neglect, that person shall immediately report or cause a report to be made.

After comparing the original 210.115 RSMo to the new 210.115 (HB 580), we can see that the change introduced by HB 580 is one section:

The conditions which shall cause an individual described in this subsection to have reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected include, but are not limited to:

(1) Severe malnutrition not caused by a medical condition;

(2) Severe bruising, lacerations, burns, fractures, ligature marks, or severe welting not caused by a medical condition and which are inconsistent with the explanation given for the condition.


So far, so good; these guidelines are useful, and make sense in the context of suspected child abuse. However, once HB 580 goes to Committee, odd things happen to its text.

First, the title of the bill changes (emphasis mine):

AN ACT To repeal section 210.115, RSMo, and to enact in lieu thereof one new section relating to the protection of children under the age of eighteen.

Second, one additional condition (3) is introduced:

The conditions which shall cause an individual described in this subsection to have reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected include, but are not limited to:

(1) Severe malnutrition not caused by a medical condition;

(2) Severe bruising, lacerations, burns, fractures, ligature marks, or severe welting not caused by a medical condition and which are inconsistent with the explanation given for the condition; and

(3) Substantial evidence of sexual intercourse by an unmarried minor under the age of consent.


This third condition is the problem. It decrees that evidence of sexual intercourse by an unmarried minor under the age of consent represents reasonable cause that child abuse has occurred. This doesn't make sense, and the wording is (surprise, surprise) vague.

Not only is sexual activity by unmarried minors legal; it's not an indication of abuse. According to Missouri law:

566.032. 1. A person commits the crime of statutory rape in the first degree if he has sexual intercourse with another person who is less than fourteen years old.


and

566.034. 1. A person commits the crime of statutory rape in the second degree if being twenty-one years of age or older, he has sexual intercourse with another person who is less than seventeen years of age.


[Hm, so if the person having sex with the 14 yo, or the 21 yo who has sex with a 17 yo is a "she", there's no statutory rape?]

An interesting aside: From this, we learn there were 640 persons serving time for statutory rape in 2001 in Missouri. [I couldn't find the number of reported cases.]

Moreover, marital status is irrelevant. Just because a minor is married, doesn't mean abuse can't, or hasn't, occurred.

Finally, as explained in this St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, under the age of consent is imprecise, confusing terminology:

Byrd said his bill has been misinterpreted to include sexual activity by older teens. He said that the "age of consent" referred to in the bill is 15. He said sexual activity by children under that age is something that should be reported to the child abuse hot line, regardless of the age of the sexual partner.

Missouri law on age of consent differs by the circumstances. An adult, for example, can be prosecuted for having sex with anyone under the age of 17.

"If somebody says to me, what's the age of consent in Missouri, I say it's 17," said Ed Postawko, a sex crimes prosecutor in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's office.

Postawko said it's statutory rape or statutory sodomy for anyone to have sex with a child under the age of 14.


And if you think this is a positive development, think again:

Until Monday, the bill had been sailing through the Legislature with little formal debate. It was scheduled for a House vote this morning, but on Monday the bill's author sent it back to committee for revisions.

...

Opponents of Byrd's bill were troubled that it had been moving on a fast track toward passage. Until Monday, the bill was listed as a "consent bill," a classification typically reserved for noncontroversial bills.

Byrd said he decided to pull the bill from the consent calendar to make some changes suggested to him over the weekend by medical personnel.

...

Byrd said he'd like to add more detail to the bill to clarify cases that require a call to the child abuse hot line. But he said he will not budge on the bill's requirement to report sexual activity by those under the age of consent.


Bottom line: Yet another vaguely worded, sexually fixated, unnecessary piece of legislation.

And an observation: The more I read about what various state legislators are doing, the more convinced I become that, like children, politicians require strict guidance and supervision.


(via fullnelson)

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