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Paying the price to protect children from sexual crime

June 08, 2006

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin hopes West Virginia's state legislators can take quick action on a subject that stymied their Maryland counterparts in 2006 - new penalties for sex offenders who prey on children.

We hope lawmakers who attend next week's special session realize just what sort of an obsession they are dealing with.

Pedophilia - an unnatural sexual attraction to children - is very difficult or impossible to cure. Because of that, the emphasis must be on protecting the victims.

The new law would increase penalties in cases where the victim is under 12 and the offender is at least 18.

For a first-degree sexual assault, such as a rape, the penalty would go from 15 to 35 years to 25 to 100 years.

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Penalties for molestation would go from one to five years to five to 25 years. If the act involves a weapon, an assault, force or a "predatory act," probation would be out, as would any sentence involving home confinement.

Sexual predators would also face increased reporting requirements. Their driver's licenses or identity cards would have to identify them as sex offenders.

If this sounds harsh, consider that research reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the average sexual predator commits 13 illegal, sexual acts before he is arrested.

That is known, wrote Amitai Etzioni, a professor of sociology at George Washington University, because once an arrest is made, other victims tend to come forward.

In the same article, Etzioni concluded that many sexual offenders who graduated from treatment centers did not stop their predatory behavior, but did manage to stop getting caught.

And, while the professor held out hope for a cure, he said that until one is found, incarceration is the only safe alternative. That will cost money, but for those whose children won't become victims, it's a price worth paying.

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