Legislature Cracks Down on Sexual Predators

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Officials with the Southeast Alabama Child Advocacy Center read through a folder of statistics for their cases.

Last year there were more than 800 cases of child abuse, last month 29. On Wednesday afternoon alone, there were five, and those alarming numbers don't seem to be getting any lower.

"Child abuse has always been around and the numbers are not down here at our center. Every year we have an increase in our reports," says the advocacy center director, Sheryl Walker.

And though a new House bill won't stop the numbers from growing, it’s the hope of the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Blain Gallliher, that it'll make child molesters think twice before hurting a victim.

Under the current law, if a predator aged 16 and over molests someone 12 years and under, it’s a class C felony with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, and they'll be up for parole in 18 months. Under the new bill if a molester meets the same criteria, they'll be charged with a class B felony, the judge can give two to 20 years, and the molester must serve 85 percent of their sentencing.

Houston/Henry County DA Doug Valeska agrees.

“There's a lot of cry babying going on about the lack of prison space; it’s too expensive, too many people in prison, but when you rape, murder, sodomize, hurt women and children and take away lives you should serve every day, you should not get out."

Officials with the Child Advocacy Center say a recent report shows that 90 percent of all juveniles with behavioral problems experience some form of abuse at home. This is why experts believe the longer time served, the better.

"If they know they are going to go to jail for a long time and maybe have a stiffer penalty, they'll stop and think about the penalty before they abuse a child," Walker says.

The bill must now go through the Senate. The bill passed in the House 101 to nothing. It was originated by circuit judges who saw a loophole in the law when they weren't able to sentence at their discretion.