A new state law cracking down on sex offenders wasn’t tough enough for some Iowa towns and counties, which continue to write ordinances of their own in the effort to make areas off-limits for anyone identified and convicted as an offender. Drake Law professor Bob Rigg says a few recent high-profile incidents involving child kidnapping or killing in the news drove the push to make penalties harsher. As a result, he explains, lawmakers want to react, so they pass laws even though some don’t “make a lot of sense and may not achieve what they’re trying to do,” but they go ahead and pass the laws. Rigg says right now we have some new laws on the book that probably aren’t going to accomplish what their creators hoped for. He says some of the new laws cast “a very wide net.” When most people think of a “sexual offender,” they think of a child molester, but the wide-open laws being written today would include cases known under older laws as statutory rape. The definition of statutory rape, as it used to be termed in older laws, included a difference in the age of the participants and the fact that they both agreed — it was consenting sexual activity, but because of the difference in age legislatures made it a crime. Now, he says, that and other situations are all included in the category of sexual abuse. He says the Iowa Code ranks many offenses, and makes people convicted of them all be named in the state’s sex-offender registry. There’s sexual abuse in the first, second and third degree, there’s a charge of “lewd and lascivious acts,” there’s “indecent contact with a minor,” and probably 20 or 30 types of offenses that would be covered by the sex-offender registry. He gives as an example a charge like indecent exposure. It’s something that might typically happen on a college campus, where an act like public urination would commonly bring a charge of indecent exposure. Though it’s only an aggravated misdemeanor, it would make the culprit have to sign up for the sex offender registry. Rigg says Iowa’s newest set of sex-offender rules lack some details necessary to properly enforce them, and will likely need some further fine-tuning.
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