Legislation is moving through the state Senate that would increase the penalties on those convicted of child pornography in cases when the victim is 10 years old or younger or known by their abuser, resulting in more jail time.
The bill, unanimously approved on Monday the Senate Judiciary Committee, also would establish a 16-member child sexual abuse prevention task force that would craft recommendations to protect children within the child welfare system as well as recommend long-term strategies and education about child sexual abuse and prevention.
Senate Bill 1075, sponsored by Sen. Dave Arnold, R-Lebanon County, comes on the heels of Friday’s arrest of former Harrisburg city councilman Brad Koplinski on 15 felony charges for allegedly possessing child pornography.
But the issue hits even closer to home for the state Senate. Last year, one of its own, former Lebanon County Republican Sen. Mike Folmer, was arrested on similar charges. He is now behind bars, serving a one- to two-year sentence for that crime.
About that, committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne County, said during the discussion of the bill, “I don’t believe anyone in this chamber ever imagined that a member would be arrested, convicted and jailed for the offense of child pornography. For me, that was a gut-wrenching wakeup call to have a perpetrator of child pornography in plain sight.”
This bill was the first one Arnold introduced following his election to fill the seat Folmer previously held.
In an earlier interview, Arnold said the legislation was not only in response to Folmer’s case but rather from seeing this crime occur far too often in his 18 years in law enforcement, including 14 years as Lebanon County District Attorney.
“Every single time an individual views these images, the children are re-victimized,” he said in comments that Baker read on his behalf during the committee meeting. “It’s time that the law put more onus on criminals viewing these images, especially when these images depict pre-pubescent children or a child under the age of 10.”
In his remarks, Arnold referred to Koplinski’s arrest as “another example of innocent and vulnerable children being victimized.”
Baker agreed that this child protection bill is needed, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic, which she said she believes has led to a spike in child exploitation materials available on the internet.
“Children used in child pornography are a victim of sexual abuse and can have long-ranging psychological, emotional and physical effects on them throughout their surviving years,” she said. “Many of these young children are forced to cope with unavoidable symptoms of trauma that they endured: depression, flashbacks and [post-traumatic stress disorder]. “
What’s more, Baker added: “Child pornographic images are a permanent lifetime re-victimization of that child. So this important legislation is helping I believe to establish penalties and also by unmasking online child predators to bring them to justice, to full justice.”
The bill now is in a position to be considered by the full Senate.
Jan Murphy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.
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