Government

Parents can't show children obscene material under amended bill in Iowa Legislature

Goal of Senate File 460 is to prevent grooming children for sex abuse

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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An amended bill before the Iowa Legislature makes it illegal for parents to show their children sexual images that meet the legal description of “obscene material.”

A previous bill, Senate File 1144, would have prohibited parents who are child sex offenders from showing obscene material to children, but the amended Senate File 460 excludes all parents. Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, removed the parental exemption before the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 4, said Sen. Kevin Kinney, who served on the committee.

Kinney, D-Oxford, supported the original bill because, as a former investigator with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, he saw cases in which sex offenders showed their own children sexual images to groom them for future abuse. He doesn’t mind the amendment, but he doesn’t want it to torpedo the bill.

“I brought up the concern that it might now be too broad to pass in the House, but they said they had talked with state representatives,” Kinney said of Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans. “I don’t disagree with it as long as we get the definitions right.”

A Central Iowa woman told The Gazette last month that her daughter’s father showed the girl, then 9, at least 15 cellphone photos of his wife’s naked breasts and genitals last spring when the child was staying at his house in North Liberty. The girl told her mother he had said it was a “daddy/daughter secret.”

The Gazette did not name the woman to avoid identifying her daughter.

When the woman tried to press charges, she was told the man did not break the law because Iowa Code Section 728.2 exempts parents from the law prohibiting dissemination or exhibition of obscene material to minors.

Parents and guardians were excluded to give them authority to decide what materials might be necessary for education about sexual health, reproduction or other subjects, Department of Human Services Spokesman Matt Highland told The Gazette last month.

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“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,” he said.

Iowa law defines obscene material as “depicting the genitals, sex acts, masturbation, excretory functions or sadomasochistic abuse which the average person, taking the material as a whole and applying contemporary community standards with respect to what is suitable material for minors, would find appeals to the prurient interest and is patently offensive; and the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value.”

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said earlier this week they had not yet reviewed the amended bill.

“It is on our list to read through and examine,” spokeswoman Veronica Fowler said. “We’re concerned about it, but we need to study it further.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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