TOPEKA — The Kansas House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice voted on Feb. 25 to table a bill that would prevent judges from reducing an offender's prison sentence on the basis that child sex crime victims are partially responsible as aggressors to the situation.
The bill, proposed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, was prompted by the case of Raymond Soden, a 67-year-old man from Leavenworth who was sentenced in December for soliciting sex from teens online, according to the Kansas City Star.
Outcry over the case ensued after Leavenworth District Judge Michael Gibbens called the child victims “aggressors” in the case. The Kansas Sentencing Guidelines called for Soden to serve 13 years and 10 months in prison, but instead he was sentenced to five years and 10 months. The judge said there was “substantial and compelling” evidence that allowed for departure from the guidelines. The defense for the departure sentence was the behavior of the 13- and 14-year-old victims, alluding that they were partly responsible for what happened.
During the meeting, lawmakers voiced concern about the ramifications of this bill, many being conflicted by the idea of labeling a child an “aggressor.”
“I don't like calling a sex victim, be it male or female, an aggressor,” said Rep. John Wheeler (R-Garden City.)
Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) said he understands the shock that comes with calling a 13- or 14-year-old an aggressor, but he also said there are some situations where that could be the case.
“I think we have to trust judges, give them some level of discretion,” Carmichael said. “This is going to be a real tough vote for me. There may be victims who are in fact the aggressor.”
Lawmakers expressed that the bill is well-intentioned but also called it troubling, noting that more time was needed to consider such a bill.
“Distinguishment solely upon age is troubling to me,” Wheeler said.
The voice vote to table the bill appeared unanimous after a somber conversation about the details of the case, which Carmichael called a “terrible, terrible situation.”
“I do have some serious concerns about this bill,” said Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger (D-Lawrence).
After the vote, C.J. Grover, a spokesman for Schmidt said "the attorney general continues to believe Kansas law should not allow children to be labeled 'aggressors,' who are responsible for the criminal conduct of adults who commit sex crimes against them."
Paige Henderson is a University of Kansas senior from Lenexa majoring in journalism.