Politics & Government

Beshear seeks legislative action to fight sex crimes against children, vulnerable adults

Atttoney General Andy Beshear, with Rep. Joni Jenkins, left, and Gretchen Hunt, victims advocacy director in Beshear’s office, testified before a legislative committee about the need for a bill to close legal loophole in abuse cases.
Atttoney General Andy Beshear, with Rep. Joni Jenkins, left, and Gretchen Hunt, victims advocacy director in Beshear’s office, testified before a legislative committee about the need for a bill to close legal loophole in abuse cases. jbrammer@herald-leader.com

A 6-year-old girl in court in Christian County testified that over five months in 2012 her stepfather sexually abused her while her mother was deployed overseas with her Army unit.

But the child in her testimony was not able to provide specific dates and places of the abuse.

The Kentucky Supreme Court last year overturned the man’s conviction, saying that Kentucky has no law allowing conviction based on a pattern of ongoing conduct.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who took office this year, is calling on state lawmakers to approve legislation to aid prosecutors in combating repeated sex crimes against children and adults who are vulnerable due to health or disability.

House Bill 109, sponsored by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, got off to a good start last week in the state legislature.

The state House approved it Friday on a 91-0 vote with little discussion. The measure had won unanimous approval earlier in the week in the House Judiciary Committee.

The measure now goes to the state Senate for its consideration.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, has filed a similar bill, Senate Bill 60. Westerfield and Beshear, who faced off last November in the statewide race for attorney general, seem to be in agreement on this issue.

“We must close this loophole to secure justice for our children and vulnerable adults and to remove pedophiles and sex abusers from our neighborhoods,” said Beshear, son of former Gov. Steve Beshear.

The bill would create “a continuous course of conduct” law that would allow children and vulnerable adults to testify to a pattern of abuse without being penalized for not remembering the exact date and place it occurred.

“It is difficult for victims, especially children, to differentiate the assaults by time or place because they occur with such horrific frequency and in the same setting,” said Beshear, the state’s top law-enforcement official.

The ability to place events in time and recall dates does not develop until middle childhood, Beshear said.

He noted that the law still will require juries to find beyond a reasonable doubt that two or more acts of abuse have occurred.

“But we will not be hampered from bringing cases just because the child cannot accurately testify to the exact date of the offense,” Beshear said.

Gretchen Hunt, director of Beshear’s victims advocacy office, said research shows that even when children cannot recall the dates that abuse occurred, they can provide testimony about the abuse itself that is highly accurate and credible.

She said Kentuckians can report any suspected abuse by calling 1-877-597-2331.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

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