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Moms testify for stronger laws against child abuse

March 10, 2004|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Hagerstown area mothers who met in a support group after their children were sexually abused came to Annapolis on Tuesday to back legislation that would keep child abusers behind bars longer.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, would make child abuse and child sexual abuse crimes of violence.

Classifying them crimes of violence would ensure that convicts serve more of their sentences. Right now child abusers are eligible for parole after serving one-quarter of their sentences.

One of the women, whose full name is being withheld to protect the identity of her daughter, told the House Judiciary Committee her story at a hearing Tuesday.

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The woman said her daughter was 8 when she revealed that her grandfather had been molesting her.

"It was devastating for us," she said.

After he was convicted, the family learned he would be eligible for parole after serving a little more than a year. A parole hearing is scheduled for June.

Committee members also received a handwritten note from the little girl.

"If they are out of jail they could hurt other kids too. I lost my family because of him. He heart my heart," she wrote.

Kevin Shearer of Columbia, Md., testified that his 15-month-old daughter died from blunt force trauma and shaking.

The family baby sitter, who was convicted of the crime of child abuse, will serve less than two-and-a-half years in prison for the death.

"It seems completely ridiculous to me that child abuse is not a crime of violence," he said.

A Mercersburg, Pa., woman testified that her former husband molested several of her sons' friends.

"The weapon he used was he gains their trust. I was sickened by how violated they were," she said.

She and three other Hagerstown-area women who met in a support group carpooled to the hearing in Annapolis.

Two other women from the support group attended but did not testify.

They had asked Shank to submit the legislation.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Mark Boyer and Victim Witness Coordinator Jill Ritter testified in support of the legislation.

Ritter said she has a hard time explaining to victims why their abusers don't do much time, especially because victims often ask her if their abuser will be put behind bars for life.

"It's almost heart-wrenching because a lot of times that's what they ask is to never see this person again in their lives," she said.

Del. Neil Quinter, D-Howard, has filed a bill that would do much the same thing as Shank's bill.

In the past, the committee has killed similar proposals.

A lawyer from the state Public Defender's Office testified against the legislation.

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