Senate Passes the "Protect Our Children Act" and Other Measures to Prevent Child Abuse

May 28, 2015

The New York State Senate today passed crucial measures to help protect the most vulnerable children from abuse, maltreatment, and exploitation. The three bills create new crimes and strengthen penalties to stop future abuse, address the use of the Internet in promoting child sexual abuse, and build upon existing laws preventing female genital mutilation.

The Protect Our Children Act (S2964A), sponsored by Senator Robert Ortt (R-C-I, North Tonawanda), would help ensure appropriate punishment for cruel and repeated maltreatment. This bill creates the offenses of aggravated murder of a child; aggravated abuse of a child in the third degree; aggravated abuse of a child in the second degree; aggravated abuse of a child in the first degree; aggravated manslaughter of a child; aggravated endangering the welfare of a child; aggravated murder of a child; obstructing the location of a missing child; and concealment of a death.

Many existing statutes make prosecuting child abuse very difficult or carry such disproportionately low punishments as to permit serious child abuse to have essentially no meaningful consequences. Under current law, unless physical injury results, the infliction of sadistic, painful, or dangerous punishments on children can typically be charged only as misdemeanors. Other low-level charges with probationary sentences are not seen as sufficient to protect the most vulnerable children.

Senator Ortt said, “This legislation is the next step we need to take in protecting our children. Anyone entrusted with the welfare of a child must be held to a higher standard that ensures they're truly protecting that child. Current law doesn’t go far enough to protect our children from serious abuse. Quite frankly, our children deserve better than a legal loophole and I hope the Assembly Majority will act on this common sense measure to prevent further, potentially fatal, abuse.”

The Senate today also passed a bill to help New York State combat the child sexual abuse, particularly when predators use technology to promote their sexual crimes against children. The legislation (S3212), sponsored by Senator Catharine Young (R-C-I, Olean) creates a new crime of promoting a sex offense against a child, making the offense a Class B violent felony, and possessing a sex offense against a child, making it a Class C violent felony. By establishing these new crimes to directly address the solicitation and/or participation in acts by other Internet users (i.e. instant message, e-mail, blog, etc.), this bill accurately reflects the full scope of injury inflicted by Internet sex crimes against children.

Senator Young said, “Technology is being used by predators to commit sex crimes against children, and these perpetrators must be stopped. Pedophiles use the internet in the cloak of anonymity to broadcast their sexual acts and promote group participation with others. By amending the state's penal code to create new offenses and penalties for using technology to commit sex crimes against children, our laws will become up to date with modern realities and we can help protect kids from horrific abuse.”

Legislation to strengthen current laws addressing female genital mutilation that takes place outside of New York also passed the Senate today. The bill (S3484), sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza (R-C-I, Staten Island), would allow the state to charge a person with female genital mutilation (FGM) if they knowingly removed or caused the removal of a child from New York for the purpose of circumcising, excising, or infibulating the whole or any part of the female genitalia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 1997 that 150,000 to 200,000 girls and women in the United States were at risk of being forced to undergo FGM. In 2000, New York had an estimated 7,675 girls under the age of 18 at risk of FGM -- the state with the second highest number of girls. After FGM was criminalized in New York in 1997, testimony of survivors provided information about families who are increasingly engaging in a practice known as "vacation cutting." Family members send their female children overseas to undergo FGM during school vacations as part of a trip organized to expose the girls to the customs of their ancestral homelands, and thereby avoid criminal prosecution in New York.

The bills have been sent to the Assembly.