Bill to strengthen penalties against child porn convicts moves to full Senate

By Christina Ramey
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS- A bill to strengthen punishments for certain child pornography convictions passed unanimously through the Corrections and Criminal Law committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 14 focuses on increasing the felonies penalties for child pornography and child exploitation, a technical term for producing child pornography.

The bill, authored by Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, would make it so that Indiana law differentiates between video and photographs when it comes to punishment – and video would be punished more harshly.

“Right now the way that we have the law structured – the penalty is the same… if a child was standing nude in a photo. It’s the same penalty as if a child is depicted as being brutally raped by several different people… and that’s wrong,” said Head.

The bill also would increase the offense of child exploitation a level four felony instead of a level five. Someone convicted of a level four felony can be sentenced to as many as 12 years in prison. A level five felony holds a maximum sentence of just half that.

The bill also would make possession of child pornography that includes bestiality, a mentally disabled child that participates or is forced to participate in sexual conduct, resists verbally and/or physically or is injured in the act, a level five felony as opposed to a level six.

Head said he believes that all child pornography and exploitation is harmful and vicious but also believes offenders can engage in differing levels of the crime and should be punished accordingly.

Shelby County Prosecutor Brad Landwerlen testified in favor of the bill.

He talked about “The Jenny Series,” one of the many cases concerning child pornography. The series contains a number of photos and videotapes of a young mentally disabled girl who was repeatedly raped and forced to engage in sex acts with animals, adults and other kids. The abuse began when she was just seven years old and lasted for three years.

“The Jenny Files” helped to bring SB 14 in existence because of a case that happened over the summer.

According to The Shelbyville News, Michael Dean Sermersheim, 68, faces at least 27 counts of child exploration and 27 counts of child pornography. This case also helped the bill to be made.

“The bottom line is the marketplace, the people who want to collect and trade this stuff… creates victims,” Landwerlen said. “The second thing is if I had any inclination to do these things to a child when I watch 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, maybe 100 people do the same thing to other children, I become desensitized to the fact that I know how wrong it is and I’m more likely to act out those things and that’s creating Indiana victims.”

Landwerlen described videos such as these to be more heinous and “so much worse” than a photograph of a nude child. He wants offenders to be charged with more serious felonies that current law allows.

The committee amended the bill to include a photo, drawing or any other type of rendering of a child in the nude can be an offense. The second adopted amendment makes it an aggravated offense if the defendant knows that the child is under the age of 12 or the child appears to be under the age of 12.

The bill would also enhance the penalties for offenders if the victim is mentally disabled or younger than 12.

The bill passed out of committee and heads back to the full Senate.

Christina Ramey is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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