PIERRE, SD – A few words not included in South Dakota’s law dealing with criminal sexual contact came to light in a recent investigation, and now, child-protection advocates hope proposed changes will limit harm caused by predators.
A bill making its way through the Legislature would add the words “buttocks” and “inner thighs” to the sexual-contact law. Bill sponsors say not having the language prevented charges being filed against a high school cross-country coach in Rapid City, SD, over inappropriate massages with students.
Sen. Helene Duhamel, R-Rapid City, said prosecutors from elsewhere in the state testified they too wish they had a broader definition for similar cases.
“Just another tool for the prosecutor when something like this happens,” Duhamel explained. “It seems like a good, common-sense fix to our laws in South Dakota.”
The bill has cleared the Senate and will likely be considered in the House. Some policy analysts question why all states are not fully aligned with federal law in this area. Duhamel noted she is open to the idea down the road but added opposition over unintended consequences could get in the way of making fixes right now.
Rep. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, is leading the effort in the House. While the law change applies to individuals of all ages, he said it added a layer of protection for minors who have to deal with the long-term effects from these encounters.
“We need this to stop, so they don’t have adverse effects later on in life,” Reed asserted. “It’s kind of like a post-traumatic response that can happen when it comes to sexual abuse.”
Sexual abuse of minors falls under the umbrella of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said survivors are more likely to experience sexual violence as adults when compared with non-victims.
Meanwhile, Reed, who also serves on the board for the Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment, expects the bill to get a House committee hearing in the near future.