Star Tribune June 3, 2009
Justice is unequal in sex abuse
Those who molest family members get lighter sentences than outsiders, data show.
A young woman in Hennepin County accuses her father of sexually abusing her since she was 12 and impregnating her at age 18.
A 13-year-old Ramsey County girl tells a school counselor that her father had been touching her while her mother was in the hospital.
A 15-year-old Anoka County boy reports to police that his stepfather, convicted of a sex offense years earlier, committed sex acts with him, once in exchange for help with a video game.
In each case, Minnesota sentencing guidelines called for a seven-year or 12-year prison sentence. Instead, each defendant pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year or less in jail and a long probation.
Such lighter sentences are given more often to defendants abusing children in their own families or households than to those who abuse outside their families, a Star Tribune analysis of nearly 1,500 child sex abuse cases shows.
From 2001 to 2007, 33 percent of family or household child sex abuse defendants facing prison time ended up with probation, compared with 26 percent of those abusing outside their families. In the most serious cases where victims were between 13 and 15 years old, the difference was even greater: 37 percent versus 24 percent.
That sentencing disparity troubles some legislators and advocates for victims.
“It’s really unfortunate because … girls and boys who have experienced incest are somehow valued less than girls and boys who have experienced abuse at the hands of neighbors and coaches and teachers and other people,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, a nursing professor in Canada who studies abuse victims in research with Children’s Hospital of St. Paul.
Even family members who initially agreed to lighter sentences for abusers — to protect children from having to testify or to keep a family wage earner working — sometimes come to feel probation sentences aren’t enough as they watch the effect of abuse on the child victim play out for years.
Below are articles from other authors and some that I have written on this topic over the past few years.
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