Bill adds better protections for crime victims

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

A bill that would put in place more protections for abuse victims and potential victims is on track for passage in Indiana.

And the start of the bill came from a Jasper mother’s concern about her underaged daughter being groomed by a grown man for sex.

The Indiana Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 551 Tuesday. It is now in the Indiana House of Representatives for consideration.

Messmer

Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, started working on the multi-part bill after receiving a call from the local mother. Her 14-year-old daughter had received Valentine’s Day flowers that were sent to her school from the father of one of her friends. He’s also sent flowers to some other girls at the school.

“On her set of flowers, there was a very inappropriate note for a 40-year-old man to send to a 14-year-old girl,” Messmer said Wednesday evening, “talking about he loved her and looked forward to their relationship continuing to grow.”

The mother found out that the man had been sending text messages to her daughter — more than 1,000 of them that spanned about four months.

“When you know anything about sex predators, this was classic grooming behavior of an adult to a potential victim,” Messmer said. “This happened on Valentine’s Day, and in March she was supposed to go with that family on their spring break trip to Florida. And the progression of the text messages was pretty clear that that was when he was going to make his move.”

The mother went to the authorities and they agreed the man was grooming her daughter for a sexual activity. But they looked through the criminal statutes on sexual misconduct and there was nothing listed to deal with this type of offense.

“They couldn’t do anything because there hadn’t been a crime committed yet,” Messmer said. “There was nothing that was chargeable.”

The mother called Messmer about the situation, and he went to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. They worked last summer on wording for a bill that could be submitted to the Legislature. They tried writing definitions to clearly define all parts of the grooming behavior, “but there was no way to do that to make it foolproof,” Messmer said.

What they did instead was update the protective order statutes and add to the list what a person could get a protective order for against someone, to include situations in which an adult is conditioning a minor for sexual activity. “So if a protective order is put in place and [an] adult does one thing [that violates the order],” Messmer said, “then we have a felony that we can charge with, and all the other information becomes relevant.”

The state prosecution organization told Messmer about other abuse crime situations when better protection is needed for the victim.

“We worked on this (bill) through November, December,” he said, “and got together all the pieces of code that deal with protecting victims of crime.”

According to a press release sent from Messmer’s legislative office, Senate Bill 551 would:

• Expand the rights of domestic violence and child abuse victims.

• Protect the community from sex offenders and violent abusers.

• Prohibit Department of Child Services from releasing information on minor fatality if there is an ongoing investigation.

• Allow a child victim to bring a comfort item, such as a stuffed animal or a specially trained dog, to court during testimony.

• Restrict the disclosure of sensitive information about a child victim and defendant during a criminal investigation or prosecution.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and Dubois County Prosecutor Anthony Quinn, who is a member of the council, have expressed support of the legislation.

Now that the bill has been sent to the Indiana House, it will go to the House’s Court and Criminal Code Committee for a hearing. Messmer said he has already talked about the bill to the committee head, State Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, and has given her a copy. McNamara is the House sponsor for the legislation, which indicates support of a bill.

A bill must pass through a committee in each chamber, be approved by each chamber and be signed by the governor to become law. If Senate Bill 551 becomes law, it will go into effect immediately.




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