Views from Kansas: Why no action on spousal crimes?
Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.
Spousal sexual battery and sexual extortion are still legal in Kansas.
With no known opposition to bills that would have corrected this situation, why are they dead for this year’s legislative session, as of Feb. 28?
“This was deemed not important enough” to even be debated this year, said state Rep. Brett Parker, a Democrat from Overland Park who wrote the measure that would have outlawed nonconsensual spousal sexual contact short of rape.
There is one other possibility: “I would hate to think it’s so petty as to be because it came from a Democrat,” Parker said.
We’re not sure which would be worse.
But the latter would certainly be in keeping with everything else we’ve seen this session from the Republicans who control both houses in Topeka. Their top goal is to do nothing to cooperate with their new Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, who ran on finding common ground.
So far, Republicans have stuck to that plan, no matter how much it hurts the Kansans who sent them to Topeka.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, also a Democrat from Overland Park, wrote the legislation that would have made it a crime to blackmail someone into sex or even sexual slavery, for instance by threatening to post photos online, which often happens now.
She said she understands the political reasoning behind trying to limit the accomplishments of the other team. “But this is a bridge too far, to put vulnerable Kansans in danger. That’s tremendously wrong, and not only disappointing but alarming.”
Spousal rape and aggravated sexual battery have long been illegal, so why should other sex crimes be legal inside a marriage?
No one testified against the bill. And even though some of the questions from members of the House Judiciary Committee were bizarre, the answers seemed to have calmed any concerns.
Rep. Emil Bergquist, a Republican from Park City, said he was worried that such a law could be exploited by spouses who had not really been victimized but simply regretted experimenting with “abnormal and abhorrent” sex acts.
“Any sadomasochistic acts may be something they would toy with,” Bergquist said. “If a married couple would choose to do that and later on an individual would decide that was no longer acceptable, would that be something that maybe you’re dealing with?”
Fifty Shades of Kansas, in other words?
That hasn’t been a problem elsewhere and wouldn’t be here, either. Kansas is one of only eight states with laws that carve out exceptions to sex crimes for spouses. But married people also have the right not to be violated. And to ignore the evidence of how often that occurs is madness.
Rep. Mark Samsel, a Republican from Wellsville, said he worried about the law being used as a weapon in unrelated marital disputes. But why should that be more true for sexual battery than for rape?
Both of these objections show more concern for perpetrators than victims. And they fit right in with the recent Kansas House committee decision not to move forward with legislation that would have prevented a repeat of the notorious December decision handed down by Leavenworth County District Judge Michael Gibbens. He shortened the sentence of a 67-year-old man found guilty of soliciting a 13-year-old girl online. Because, the judge said, the man’s underage victims were “more aggressor than a participant” in their own coercion.
Republican lawmakers let that proposed bill die, too, arguing that judges need to have discretion. Who knew they so respected activist judges upholding the important principle that a 13-year-old can be blamed for her own exploitation?
It’s time for Kansas to recognize that sexual battery and blackmail are criminal acts and need to be recognized as such, no matter where you are or who you are.
And Republican lawmakers better hope voters don’t punish their short-sighted efforts to make sure that the governor they elected by a wide margin is unable to do anything in office.
— Originally published in the Kansas City Star.