Bills aim to protect children from sexual predators advance in Senate Judiciary Committee

February 21, 2019 – Three bills which aim to protect children from sexual predators were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  Two of the proposals extend the statute of limitations regarding sex crimes against children, while the third clarifies that undercover human trafficking operations used to catch offenders who patronize or promote prostitution of a minor are prosecutable in court.

Statute of Limitations Senate Bill 1252 follows passage of a series of laws last year to protect children from sexual misconduct by teachers.  It also follow recommendations made by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) which recently delivered a report on the effectiveness of the state’s statues of limitations on prosecution of sexual offenses.  The report showed that while Tennessee has taken steps to address the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes, improvements could be made to better protect victims.  It found that 32 states have eliminated the statute of limitations for certain felony child sexual abuse crimes, while 12 others have removed those involving felony offenses. 

Key provisions in the bill include:

  • Removing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse felonies;
  • Increasing the time for civil claims involving child sexual abuse from 7 to 15 years after the victim turns 18 years old; and
  • Creating a Class E felony for intentionally failing to report on a first offense and knowingly failing to report for a second offense.

Some of the felony crimes involving minors covered by the bill include trafficking for a commercial sex act, crimes involving rape, crimes involving sexually battery, patronizing or promoting prostitution, continuous sexual abuse of a child, crimes involving sexual exploitation, sexual battery, incest, indecent exposure, and unlawful photographing.

Senate Bill 368 removes the statute of limitations for prosecution of the most serious Class A or Class B felony sexual offenses.  It also corrects a drafting error in current law which set a lower statute of limitations for aggravated rape, rape of a child, rape, and aggravated rape of a child if notice of the offense is not given to law enforcement within three years.   This error has resulted in the statute of limitations for those crimes not reported within the three years reverting to a shorter period of 15 years from the date of offense, which is used for other Class A felonies.

Of victims under the age of 18, 34 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12, and 66 percent of victims are ages 12 to 17.  Studies of adults suggest that factors such as the relationship to the perpetrator, age at first incident of abuse, use of physical force, and the severity of abuse impact a child’s willingness to disclose sexual abuse.

Sex Trafficking / Children – The third bill, Senate Bill 644 ensures that undercover human trafficking operations conducted by law enforcement officials to catch offenders who promote or patronize minors are prosecutable in Tennessee courts of law. 

The bill clarifies, for prosecution purposes, that it is not a defense that a law enforcement officer is posing as a minor when conducting undercover operations for human trafficking.  It also clarifies that it is not a defense to the prosecution of these crimes that the solicited crime was not completed or that it was a law enforcement officer posing underage. 

The General Assembly has approved a series of bills over the past eight years addressing the problem of human trafficking after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders.  It was also discovered that minors who come from impoverished households are especially vulnerable to victimization.

All three sex offender bills advanced to the Senate floor for final consideration.

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