A new bill before the Iowa Senate would close a loophole allowing parents who are convicted sex offenders to show obscene material to their children.
“It’s a situation that shouldn’t be happening,” said a 29-year-old central Iowa woman who says her nine-year-old daughter was shown sexually-explicit photos by the child’s biological father last year in North Liberty. “It was hell going through it.”
Iowa Code Section 728.2 says it’s illegal to “disseminate or exhibit obscene material” to a minor, but parents and guardians are exempted for purposes that include teaching children about sexual health or reproduction.
“The idea would be that parents and guardians of children have the best interest of their (children) at heart and would not be recklessly exposing them to material beyond the intent of literary, scientific, political or artistic value,” said Matt Highland, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services.
Senate Study Bill 1144, assigned to a Judiciary subcommittee, would prohibit parents convicted of child sex abuse from showing sexual images to their children. The goal is to prevent sex offenders from grooming their own children for future sex abuse, said Sen. Kevin Kinney, a Johnson County Democrat and former investigator for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have to do something to protect these kids,” he said.
Kinney has spoken with a couple of Iowans who have had family situations in which sex offenders showed children obscene material.
Kinney, who has investigated sex trafficking and child sex abuse, said research shows offenders often groom victims by gaining their trust, sexualizing the relationship and requiring secrecy.
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The Central Iowa woman who told her story to The Gazette said her daughter’s father showed the girl at least 15 cellphone photos of his wife’s naked breasts and genitals last spring when the girl was staying at his house in North Liberty.
He pulled the photos from a file on his phone after telling his daughter he wanted to show her photos of her as a baby.
“He told her that was how his wife makes up for not doing chores around the house,” the Central Iowa woman said. “He also told her it was a daddy-daughter secret.”
The Gazette is keeping the woman’s identity anonymous to protect the identity of her daughter, now 10.
When the girl told her mother, the woman immediately took the child to see a counselor, who heard the story and reported the incident to the Department of Human Services, the woman said. the department investigated and determined it was a founded child abuse report, she said.
The state agency also filed a report with the North Liberty Police Department, the woman said.
“The police officer interviewed her (the girl’s) dad and submitted a report to the county attorney,” she said. “It was a shock to the police officer, even, that they weren’t able to press charges.”
The woman, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, became pregnant with her daughter when she was a senior at Kennedy High School. She was several months into the pregnancy when she learned the baby’s father had been adjudicated, or convicted, in Juvenile Court of sex abuse.
They never married and the woman has full custody of their daughter, she said.
Iowa law allows some convicted sex offenders to have custody or visitation of their own children if the Department of Human Services has determined there is not a risk of harm, department spokesman Matt Highland said.
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The girl has been seeing a counselor every week since the incident and often has trouble sleeping, her mother said. The woman felt so angry that the girl’s father couldn’t be charged that she started talking with lawmakers, including Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, and Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who sponsored SSB 1144.
Zaun’s support gives the bill greater likelihood of getting a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Bills must have committee approval in the Iowa House or Senate by March 8 to remain open for consideration.
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