Stanford University student Brock Turner’s six-month jail sentence for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster stupefied America. But in Minnesota, these types of decisions are widespread when it comes to child victims of sexual assault and pornography. And the outrage isn’t nearly as palpable.
A smattering of cases this year include a hotel manager ordered to probation and treatment for raping a 15-year-old employee; a Rochester man given six months jail for molesting a young girl over two years; and a Stewartville quadruple-offender who got 90 days jail for groping a 13-year-old.
Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines make these lenient outcomes possible. The guidelines are like a rubric that weighs the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history to help judges make consistent sentencing decisions.
In sex crime cases against children, Minnesota’s guidelines call for presumptive stayed sentences -- probation instead of prison -- for a whole block of crimes.
A repeat commercial pornographer who uses children to perform sex acts could get away with probation. A judge may have the additional option of jailing that defendant up to one year, but that rarely happens, according to the National Association to Protect Children.
According to a recent report by the anti-child abuse organization, 65 percent of felony child rapists in Minnesota never spend a single day in prison.
So why is Minnesota so soft-hearted?
National Association to Protect Children co-founder Grier Weeks says Minnesota courts have embraced the philosophy that whereas it would be a travesty of justice to penalize adult rape with mere probation, those who act on a sexual attraction to children must be suffering complex mental illnesses in need of treatment.
“I don’t even like to use the word pedophilia because it medicalizes rape, really,” Weeks says. “It’s a terrible double standard.”
Treatment has been proven to reduce recidivism. However, Weeks believes that decline in rates of reoffending are due in part to victims' trauma. When a hurt child makes an outcry and the perpetrator is sent back into his life with only probationary obligations to attend therapy, that child may never cry out again, even if the abuse persists, he says.
The report, which was sent to lawmakers, includes a number of recommendations. Chief among them: mandatory minimum sentencing for adult offenders.
No legislators have indicated interest yet, Weeks says.
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