California softens consequences for abusers

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday the 17th of September, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. First up today: changes to the way abuse is reported in California.

And before we get started, we should note this is a sensitive topic that’s probably not suitable for younger listeners. So now’s the time to hit pause and come back later if the kiddos are around.

REICHARD: Fair warning. 

Well, last month, the California General Assembly changed reporting requirements for abuse. This would be in some cases involving intimate physical contact between adults and minors. Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law on Friday.

Judges in California have discretion whether to add adults to the sex offender registry. That discretion applies when victims are between 14 and 17 years old and the offender is not more than 10 years older. This discretion applies if the offender and victim are of the opposite sex

The new law extends that judicial discretion to cases of same-sex abuse.

BROWN: State Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, authored the bill. He said the changes, and I’m quoting here, “put an end to blatant discrimination against young LGBT people engaged in consensual sexual activity.” He claims the bill is about treating everyone equally.

The California Family Council is one of the groups that opposed the bill. Jonathan Keller is its president and joins us now to talk about it.

Good morning, Jonathan.

JONATHAN KELLER, GUEST: Good morning. Thanks for letting me be with you today.

BROWN: So what about Weiner’s argument? Did the existing law make it harder to fight this expansion?

KELLER: You know, it’s, number one, very disturbing for us to actually realize that in California we have this level of deference that is given to judges. California law actually was incredibly broad. It gives a 10 year age span deference to the judge. If it is a 24-year-old male having sex with a 14-year-old female, the judge was not required to automatically place them on the sex offender registry. So, in my mind, a legislator would probably want to correct that and tighten those reporting requirements, maybe not require a lifetime appearance on the sex offender registry, but certainly not allow judges to waive that requirement entirely. Instead, what we saw from the legislature over the last two years was an attempt to actually broaden that loophole and to my mind, you can call this equality, but in my mind this really is insanity. To quote the Democrat chair of the appropriations committee, Lorana Gonzales, “No 24-year-old should ever be having sex with a 14-year-old. In every case, that’s abuse.”

BROWN: This bill is obviously concerning on many levels. But your organization is particularly worried because of the activities LGBT groups use to target young people. Talk more about that please.

KELLER: Yes. I think that anybody in a normal setting would be very concerned if they saw any organization, whether it was a church, whether it was an after-school program, or a club that was advertising social encounters—dances, club meet-ups, whatever—with adults and with minors. We have multiple examples posted on our website——multiple flyers, and signup pages where they mention, Here’s a dance that is open from not just 14 to 24 but 10 to 25 year olds. It says, “Welcome to all comers, whether you’re LGBTQ or an ally.” And the idea that on the one hand we would be promoting these types of activities just saying that this is clean, harmless fun but at the same time lowering the reporting requirements, lowering the mandatory sentencing requirements for sexual contact between a 24-year-old and a 14-year-old, that seems just to be a recipe for disaster.

BROWN: Very disturbing. Both the state Senate and General Assembly approved the bill pretty much down party lines. Did it face any opposition from Democrats?

KELLER: Yes. And this is something that I think should at least give us a modicum of hope, especially for other states around the country that may be facing similar attempts to weaken and widen loopholes for sexual abuse. The positive sign was out of the 61 Democrats that were in the state Senate, the bill only received a total of 41 votes. And, remarkably, to her credit, we not only had Republicans speaking out in opposition to the bill, but State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, who is a very powerful member of the assembly. She’s the chair of the appropriations committee. She actually spoke out so strongly against it on the floor, citing not only practical policy opposition, but also her own personal feelings as a mother.

BROWN: Policies that start in California tend to percolate throughout the rest of the country. I’m wondering is California an outlier in the way it already handles registration requirements for sex offenders? Or do other states give judges similar discretion?

KELLER: I think depending on the part of the country, there certainly are different states that allow levels of discretion. My hope and prayer is that this would be a wakeup call to states across the country, and that they would use this as an opportunity to actually tighten these reporting laws, tighten these sentencing laws to protect children and minors.

BROWN: Jonathan, thank you for staying on top of this and keeping us informed. Jonathan Keller is president of the California Family Council. Thanks so much for joining us today.

KELLER: Thanks. My pleasure.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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