December 1, 2005
Sex offenders could be facing tougher penalties if Virginia passes a new set of proposals that could put these predators behind bars for life.
The proposal also aims at improving the sex offender registry and keeping better track of the offenders. The goal is to hopefully prevent future incidents involving sexual predators, but some still think this legislation is not enough.
"We saw what happened in Florida, maybe we can possibly fix it in Virginia before something awful happens," said Delegate Rob Bell.
Bell is one of the many legislators trying to pass a $31 million proposal that would toughen penalties for sex offenders. If made law, first time offenders who commit serious sexual assaults on children under 13 would face a minimum of 25 year in prison. A second offense would mean life.
"Forty-two percent of all sex offenders re-offend within five years," said Bell.
More guards and stiffer violation penalties are also proposed, along with improving the sex offender registry. Legislators want to expand the registry to include all sex offenders, not just the violent ones. But critics said even improving the registry would help; it only gives the community a false sense of security. Just because you can find out who is a predator in your neighborhood doesn't mean you?re safe.
"The biggest danger to people, to communities, and to children doesn't comes from the stranger in the bushes; it come from people that they know," said Jennifer Woolley.
Jennifer Woolley is part of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She said while they appreciate the effort that this legislation will do, it is not the solution. It's only a part of it.
"Even better would be to prevent the first instance from happening in the first place - from happening at all, so investing more resources in primary prevention of sexual assault [is what we should be doing additionally]," said Woolley.
Woolley hopes the more people know the warning signs, the less sexual assaults.
The proposal would also require convicted sex offenders to wear a GPS tracking devise during part of their probation period so law enforcement would be alerted if they were too close to a school or playground.
If it's passed, the proposal could go into affect June 30, 2008. For more information or help with sexual abuse, you can call the Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238.