Capital Clicks

Iowa Senate passes bill increasing child pornography, exploitation penalties

By: - March 6, 2023 5:19 pm

(Photo by Caspar Benson/Getty Images)

People convicted of crimes related to child exploitation and pornography would face stiffer penalties under a bill the Iowa Senate unanimously passed Monday.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said the idea for Senate File 84 came up while reviewing current Iowa laws that deal with such crimes.

“Most law enforcement in Iowa knows that if you’re going to work a child pornography case, that’s it’s best to take it to the federal level because they actually have teeth in their code,” Dawson said.

The bill would increase the state penalty for causing or attempting to cause a minor to participate in a prohibited sex act from its current designation as a Class “C” felony to a Class “B” felony. The categorical change increases the maximum penalties from 10 years to 25 years. People serving their sentence for a sexual exploitation case have to serve a mandatory 50% to 70% of their sentence before they are eligible for work release or parole.

The bill also moves the promotion of child pornography from a Class “D” felony to a Class “C” felony, raising the maximum prison sentence from five years to 10 years, as well as raising the fines. Currently, people charged with knowingly purchasing or possessing child pornography are charged with an aggravated misdemeanor for their first offense and with a Class “D” felony for subsequent offenses. The bill raises the first-offense charge to a Class “D” felony and any additional offense to a Class “C” felony.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, introduced an amendment allowing the child victim in such cases to seek civil damages alongside any fines the state might impose. The amendment was ruled not germane to the bill.

Petersen said she was disappointed the amendment was not adopted because Iowa law currently bars the survivors of child pornography from seeking civil damages before they reach age 19. The rest of those children’s lives will be affected by their victimization in such cases, she said, adding that they should be allowed to seek justice in civil court.

“I just find it so infuriating that Iowa continues to be the worst state in the nation, barring children from access to civil damages while they’re still teenagers,” Petersen said. “And that, my friends, is wrong. While this enhances penalties — I will be supporting the bill, but what a missed opportunity today to protect our children from child pornographers.”

The bill was immediately messaged to the House for consideration. Dawson said the bill does provide better protection to victims by giving law enforcement more options to punish offenders at the state level.

“This definitely provides law enforcement (tools) to bring justice to those individuals who are victimized as well as justice to individuals who are peddling in this filth, and make sure that we have to get options out there, not just federal, but on the state level,” Dawson said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.