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Archive for Friday, February 10, 2006

Services sought for abuse victims

Increased sentences not enough, advocates say

February 10, 2006

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— As lawmakers race to increase prison sentences for sexual offenders, those who are on the front lines helping victims asked legislators Thursday to remember that those victims need services.

"By focusing on only convicted sex offenders, we will never achieve safe homes and safe streets," said Sandy Barnett, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

"Harsher punishments for convicted sex offenders will only work if there are victims willing to report and participate in the criminal justice system," Barnett said during the coalition's third annual awareness rally at the Capitol.

Because 99 percent of sexual violence is never reported to law enforcement, the emphasis by the Legislature to increase prison sentences addresses only a small number of offenders, Barnett said.

The state needs more services for victims, she said. Sixty-two counties don't have rape crisis services, and 65 don't have domestic violence crisis services, she said.

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline agreed with Barnett, but said legislation to increase prison sentences would help.

In a speech to the group, Kline said the legal system has failed when convicted offenders get light sentences, and he mentioned the 2003 Lawrence case in which three men received probation, community service and 60 days in jail in connection with the rape of a 13-year-old girl. Last year, an appeals court said the sentences were too lenient and ordered longer sentences.

"We have failed when we do not recognize that sexual assault, domestic abuse is the most invasive crime next to murder," Kline said. "There must be certain and severe consequences for those who engage in that conduct."

Both increased services for victims and punishments for offenders are important, said Shay O'Brien, director of the volunteer program at Women's Transitional Care Services Inc. in Lawrence.

"We want dangerous people to be punished," O'Brien said. "But we don't want the focus on punishment to be a priority over serving people who are victims of domestic crimes."

O'Brien and the coalition are supporting several proposals before the Legislature, including one that would allow only one lifetime diversion in cases of domestic battery.

Diversions are instances when the accused offender avoids any punishment or blemish on his record if he is able to avoid trouble for a certain period of time.

O'Brien said the diversions should remain on the offender's record in case he is arrested again for a similar offense.

The coalition also is opposed to measures that restrict where a sex offender may live once out of prison. These proposals in other states have led to higher incidences of re-offending because often the offender is forced to live in a rural area where he is not as closely monitored, the coalition said.

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