There are few things more shocking to the conscience and sickening to the soul than crimes committed against children – the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society. During my time as a federal prosecutor, the child exploitation images I was forced to review from an evidentiary standpoint were by far the most disturbing and difficult part of my job. All these years later, I still can’t erase those depraved images from my mind, and I doubt I ever will.
But the images of these horrific crimes should stick with us – in fact, they should haunt us. Then, they should compel us to take action. After all, here in Congress, we hear a lot of talk about fighting for the future of our country – and our children are that future. We’d be failing to uphold the oath we took if we didn’t prioritize our important duty of ensuring their protection.
As a Member of Congress, I’ve been humbled to have the opportunity to play a leading role in the fight to protect our children, and I’m proud of the progress that we are making. Just this past week, the House Judiciary Committee approved my bill, the Strengthening Children’s Safety Act of 2017 (H.R. 1842), which closes up loopholes in our nation’s laws that are allowing crimes against children to go unpunished.
Under current law, failure to meet the minimum national standards for sex offender registration and notification is penalized by a fine and imprisonment of up to 10 years. On top of that, an enhanced penalty of 5 to 30 years’ imprisonment is imposed if the offender – while in that non-compliant status – also commits a crime of violence under federal law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the law of the District of Columbia, Indian tribal law, or the law of any territory or possession of the United States.
But here’s the problem – right now, individuals who fit the very same bill in violation of state law aren’t included in this equation. The Strengthening Children’s Safety Act adds state laws to the list, so offenders can’t dodge enhanced punishment on a technicality.
Similarly, the second portion of my bill addresses enhanced sentences for individuals with prior sex offenses. Our child exploitation laws consistently call for higher sentences when a defendant has a prior conviction for federal or state sex offenses. However, these sentencing provisions do not consistently include all similar sex offense convictions that arise under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). My bill amends those federal child exploitation laws to include all similar child sexual exploitation offenses under the UCMJ in the recidivist provisions, as appropriate.
It’s highly disturbing – to say the least – that those who’ve engaged in child exploitation have been able to evade proper punishment for their terrible actions all because of loopholes in our existing laws. I’m very grateful for the strong, bipartisan support the Strengthening Children’s Safety Act has received in our fight to protect children, and I’m looking forward to the continued progress we’ll make on behalf of those who are our future.
Ratcliffe represents Texas 4th District and is a member of the Judiciary Committee.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.