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Creep Crusaders

Two Baltimore legislators take the lead on sex-crime reforms in Annapolis

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Clippinger, Robinson

The 2014 Maryland General Assembly session in Annapolis has plenty on its plate, sex-wise. Measures have been proposed to keep health care providers from trying to change the sexual orientation of their minor patients, to stop therapists from having sex with their clients, to bar courts from awarding custody to parents who’ve sexually abused children, and to keep those on the sex-offender registry from participating in Halloween activities—and that’s just a few of the dozens of sex-crime bills on this session’s agenda.

Joining the annual attempts to tweak Maryland’s sex laws this year are two Baltimore City Democrats—Del. Luke Clippinger and Del. Barbara Robinson—who have carved out niches with two bills each that seek to handle the creeps amongst us and the damage they cause.

Clippinger’s bills single out two distinct types of sex offenders: part-time teachers and coaches who have consensual sex with their wards (House Bill [HB] 781), and burglars who, having broken into a home, proceed to grope or otherwise sexually touch their victims (HB 782). Robinson, meanwhile, is out to improve how Maryland contends with human trafficking by improving law enforcers’ training (HB 608) and by protecting victims’ confidentiality (HB 559). All but Clippinger’s part-time teacher-or-coach bill have been introduced in prior sessions, without success.

“It’s a concern for parents,” Clippinger says of HB 781, “when they send their 16- or 17-year-old kids to school or a swim club, and the kids are under a lot of pressure and end up in a bad place, so we want to stop people from taking advantage of them.” The bill would do this, he explains, in a “very, very specific way” by criminalizing what’s already a crime for full-time people in authority in schools or recreation programs: having consensual sex with someone under their supervision who’s 16 or 17 years old. The perpetrator would have to be at least 21, and at least seven years older than the victim, and, if convicted, would be guilty of a misdemeanor sex offense, penalized with up to five years in prison.

As for groper-burglars, Clippinger says of HB 782, “that’s creepy, and it’s something that needs to be penalized” as a felony third-degree sex offense with a maximum 10-year prison sentence and “significant sex-offender registration requirements.” To be so convicted as a sex offender, the suspect must also be found guilty of the underlying burglary charge. A third-degree sex offense, explains Clippinger, is sexual contact—not actual intercourse, but touching of a sexual nature—involving the use of or threat of force or violence.

Robinson’s bills pose ways to contend with human trafficking, a suite of criminal conduct involving the forced servitude of victims, often young sex workers. So far this year, the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office has secured three separate indictments arising from investigations by the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and the FBI-led Maryland Child Exploitation Task Force, alleging seven men and a woman oversaw efforts to prostitute girls as young as 14 years old.

Robinson, in an email, explains that HB 608 would require that the Police Training Commission, which operates and certifies police-training schools, include human-trafficking “sensitivity and awareness training for police officers, not just for new officers but periodic training for the seasoned officers.” The idea, she continues, is to make cops “treat victims of trafficking as victims, not treat them as prostitutes, and they should be trained to know the difference.”

Her other human-trafficking bill, HB 559, would assure that “when a victim testifies against his or her trafficker, there should be confidentiality of where that person lives.” To do so, the bill would have the secretary of state establish a shadow system of public information to protect victims who enlist in the program from unwanted contact that otherwise could be facilitated using public records.

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