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Jewish World Review Feb. 8, 2000 /2 Adar I, 5760

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Protecting kids from the 'incest exception'

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AT HOME with the flu recently, I read an article by Dan Cook in the Portland Business Journal. Although I didn't have a fever, I thought I might be delusional. I had to read it a second time.

"In most states, a child-molesting relative is treated far more leniently by the legal system than are other pedophiles. Most child rapists, if caught, face many years in prison. For those who are 'only' found guilty of committing incest, the penalties are mild, often as painless as probation.

"The incest exception not only allows birth parents to mess with their kids with virtual impunity, but it creates another evil scenario. Predatory pedophiles can marry into fatherless (or motherless) families. Then, as a stepparent, they have the opportunity to have sex with the stepchildren."

I could hardly believe my eyes.

The article then goes on to talk about why the situation exists and pending legislation to correct it. It seems that originally, incest laws were written to prevent cousins from marrying, to protect society from having to care for inbred offspring. According to child advocate and author Andrews Vachss, "the incest laws didn't contemplate child abuse by parents."

So now we have a situation where relatives accused of raping their own children are subject to laws that were originally meant to discourage adult relatives from marrying one another. Surely, some legislator must be doing something about this.

Enter U.S. Rep. Robert W. Ney from Ohio, who introduced the Child Abuse Reform and Enforcement Act (CARE), HR 2382, in June, which calls for the elimination of the "incest exception" in every state where it exists. In a letter to his colleagues seeking support for this legislation, Ney says: "New York is a prime example of a state with a so-called 'incest exception,' one which literally rewards perpetrators for growing their own victims. That statement is no exaggeration."

Ney explains that in New York, as in many other states, prosecutors often allow family members to plead down from a Class B felony (sexually violating a child, with a sentence of 20-plus years in prison) to "incest," a Class E felony with the possibility of probation, even if convicted.

His memo concluded: "It is time to change the laws that permit an 'incest exception' to the crime of sexually molesting a child."

And that's where YOU come in. Rep. Ney needs a minimum of 150 co-sponsors to move HR 2382 through the House without it getting watered down. Currently there are only eight co-sponsors. That means you have to get active and contact your U.S. representative. Tell him or her that you want that incest loophole closed in every state; that people who molest their own children or stepchildren should have the same punishment as any adult who sexually violates a child -- certainly not less because it is theirs.

You can learn more about the CARE Act by visiting my Web site (www.drlaura.com). Then, call the congressional hotline, 202-225-3121, and leave a message for your local representative, asking him or her to sign on to HR 2382. You could also contact your representative's local office, since Congress is on hiatus until after the first of the year.

If you're still in a state of shock after reading this, I don't blame you. As I said, I had to read the article over and over again before I could believe it. But I promise you, it's true. It's not bad enough that a child has to experience the ultimate betrayal from the very person who is supposed to protect her. Then the outrage is compounded by society itself, via courts that ignore the victim and turn the perpetrator loose to continue his criminal behavior.

How can there be any reason for even one of our elected representatives to refuse to sign onto this critically important legislation? I'm going to stay on top of this one and let my listeners and my readers know who is supporting this legislation in the House -- and who isn't. Count on it.

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