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Committee Approves Measures to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children

On June 19, the House Judiciary Committee approved, 22-3, legislation (H.R. 4623) that would ban computer-generated child pornography. The committee also approved, by voice vote, legislation (H.R. 4477) that would address the issue of individuals who travel to foreign countries with the intent of engaging in illicit sexual relations with a minor and legislation (H.R. 4679) that would allow federal judges to require lifetime supervision for child sex offenders.

Child Pornography Ban
Sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), H.R. 4623 was carefully crafted to respond to a U. S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated a portion of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-208), which expanded the definition of child pornography to include computer-generated images of children as well as real-life images. H.R. 4623 would make it a crime to create a computer image that appears “indistinguishable from…a prepubescent child engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” The bill also would make it illegal to possess or distribute material that depicts images, real or virtual, of prepubescent children engaged in sexually explicit acts and would prevent child molesters from using pornography to exploit children.

Prior to passing the bill, the committee gave voice vote approval to an amendment by Rep. Smith that would limit the bill to computer images or computer-generated images that are indistinguishable from a minor engaging in sexual activities.

The committee also approved, by voice vote, a technical amendment by Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA) that would make it easier for law enforcement officers to track down suspected child molesters.

The committee rejected, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would have limited the ban on child pornography only to those using real children.

The committee also rejected an amendment by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) that would have expanded the definition of child pornography to include a “depiction taken as a whole [that] appeals to the prurient interest, is patently offensive in light of community standards, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

Lifetime Probation for Sex Offenders
Sponsored by Rep. George Gekas (R-PA), H.R. 4679 would give discretionary authority to federal judges to order lifetime supervision for pedophiles and other sex offenders. Under current law, federal judges are limited to issuing supervised probation for up to five years.

“What we’re doing here is to give judges the ability to intervene and stop it from happening again,” argued Rep. Gekas. He cited studies showing that individuals convicted of sex offenses are more likely to repeat their crimes than other offenders.

Rep. Scott expressed concern that the bill would affect people who commit misdemeanors and would disproportionately affect Native Americans since crimes committed on tribal lands are handled in federal court.

The committee approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Gekas that would broaden the bill to cover all sex crimes, rather than only sex offenses committed against children.

The committee rejected, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Scott that would have excluded misdemeanors and consensual sex cases from the bill.

The committee also rejected, 5-17, an additional amendment by Rep. Scott that would have narrowed judges’ discretionary authority to felony crimes.

Sex Tourism Bill
Sponsored by Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), H.R. 4477 would make it a federal crime, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, for anyone who travels to another state or to a foreign country with the express “purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct” with a minor. Under current law, the prosecution must prove that the individual traveled to another state or country with the intent of engaging in sex with a minor under the age of 18. H.R. 4477 would eliminate the intent requirement if the defendant completes the travel and actually engages in the illicit sexual activity with a minor.

The committee approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Smith that would limit the bill to include persons who knew or should have known that they were engaging in sexual conduct with a minor. Under the original bill, defendants would have been prohibited from offering evidence that they did not know the individual with whom they engaged in sexual activities was a minor.

The committee rejected, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Scott that would have limited the crimes covered by the bill to adults over the age of 21.

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