Losing Ground in Child Protection
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Proposed Changes to State Criminal Law Could Put Child Safety at Risk

10-12-2021

If you’re convicted of selling children to someone to rape or sexually abuse them, you’d no longer have to register as a sex offender. Child sex trafficking would be viewed differently going forward – no longer a sex crime, but a financial one.

Likewise, when a non-family member kidnaps a child, an exceedingly rare but devastating crime, the abduction itself (one of the most serious crimes on the books) wouldn’t be enough to land that offender on the registry either. The same would be true for offenders who’ve been convicted of sexually assaulting children – unless they do it more than once.

If these recommendations are adopted by state legislatures, convicted sex offenders like these could be living in your neighborhood, yet you’d never know it because you would no longer be allowed to check the registry. Nor would daycare providers, youth organizations, schools, volunteer groups or businesses. They, too, would be blocked from having access to critical information about where sex offenders live and work and what crimes they’ve committed.

These are just a few of the sweeping changes that an influential group of legal experts, the American Law Institute (ALI), have made to the nation’s Model Penal Code. If state legislatures adopt these changes, as they’re encouraged to do, they would roll back decades of child safety laws, many of which have been championed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children over the last 37 years. 

“We need your help to ensure that these misguided recommendations aren’t adopted in your state,” said John F. Clark, NCMEC’s president and CEO. “The stakes are staggering. Please join us and speak up for child protection. Let your elected officials know these proposed changes will have a devastating impact on the safety of our nation’s children. We need your voice.”

These changes to state laws would severely endanger children. Sexual assault, kidnapping, sharing child sexual abuse images, buying and selling a child for sex – these violent sexual crimes, sadly, are not rare and have a devastating and lifelong impact on children and their families. We see the harm done to these children every day at NCMEC. 

The changes in the Penal Code are astounding in their scope and the total disregard for the damage sex offenders have done to their victims. It gets worse:

  • Traffickers advertising a child for sex or those purchasing a child for sex: No trafficking crime.
  • Offenders who abduct, entice or traffick a child for sex or, share child sexual abuse material don’t have to register as a sex offender. 
  • All public access to information about registered sex offenders eliminated.
  • Sex offenders no longer required to provide key identifiers when they register, such as when they were born, fingerprints or names they use online.
  • No registration requirements if offenders are younger than 21 and sexually assault a child older than 12. Or if they sexually assault a child they are related to, unless the child is younger than 16.

So why have these drastic changes been made and why now? The authors of these revisions pointed to the need to correct the “history of overwrought emotional reaction” often triggered by sexual offenses, even while acknowledging that “the lack of liability in certain cases may be unsatisfying.”. They also acknowledged that many of their recommendations represent a “major departure” from current U.S. criminal laws and are a purposeful detour from the “strong currents of public opinion.”

Again, so why? How do you explain to the public that, if convicted, a 20-year-old man who sexually abused a 10-year-old child or a 40-year-old man who sexually abused a 12-year-old child will not be required to register as a sex offender? Why is that?

These crimes happen much more frequently than people realize. In 2020 alone, NCMEC staff helped law enforcement with more than 80 reports of those rare, non-family abductions. Through our CyberTipline, the vehicle in the U.S. for reporting child sexual exploitation, we handled more than 37,000 reports of suspected online enticement of a child for sexual abuse and more than 15,000 reports of child sex trafficking. And last year alone we received more than 21 million reports pertaining to online child sexual abuse material. 

Unfortunately, none of us — not child advocates, not survivors, not their families— were consulted as the new Model Penal Code was drafted over the last nine years. Advocates’ views about sex-offender registries were dismissed as based on “emotions or intuitions.” 

So about that emotion and intuition. We need it now more than ever. Please sign up to receive updates on how you can help in your state as we look ahead to the next legislative session. Do it for our nation’s children. Show them that emotion.

What is ALI?

The American Law Institute (ALI) is a private, non-profit organization composed of judges, attorneys, and law professors. ALI publishes restatements of the law, model codes, and principles to provide clarity and consistency to the law. While influential with courts and state legislatures, ALI’s publications are not law and do not replace existing laws and statutes.


What is MPC?

The Model Penal Code (MPC) is a set of criminal law principles issued by the American Law Institute (ALI) in 1962 to help state legislatures standardize criminal statutes. Since it was issued, many states have enacted criminal laws derived from the MPC and courts often use the MPC to interpret criminal laws. In June 2021, after a 9-year project, ALI approved sweeping changes to the MPC on Sexual Assault and Related Offenses.

Letter to ALI

In a candid letter to the American Law Institute, NCMEC explains how sweeping revisions to the Model Penal Code create significant child endangerments by making it more difficult to prosecute those who buy and sell children for sex and dismantling large portions of the sex offender registry system.

The Issues

NCMEC has identified five core child safety concerns from the American Law Institute’s revisions to the Model Penal Code. These issues are highlighted below in an overview document and each issue is summarized in one-page briefs.

Overview of Child Safety Risks under Revised Code
Weakening Child Sex Trafficking Prosecutions under Revised Code
Setting Harmful Age Parameters before Requiring Registration under Revised Code
Removing Violent, Serious Crimes Against Children from Registration under Revised Code
Removing Key Identifiers Required for Registration under Revised Code
Denying Public Access to Sex Offender Registries under Revised Code

How can I help?

Children across the nation will be endangered by revisions to the Model Penal Code if adopted by state legislatures. Please sign up below to receive updates about how you can join NCMEC’s efforts to keep children safe in your state:

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