Working together to stop sexual offenders

By Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall

Thanks to a dedicated effort from legislators and prosecutors, Alabama now joins many other states in ensuring that our most vulnerable are better protected from sexual predators.

As a district attorney for the last 16 years, I understand the importance of strengthening and updating Alabama’s sexual offender laws to hold accountable those who exploit children and others. Just as technology changes rapidly, so do criminals’ methods of reaching new victims. Unfortunately, until recently Alabama lagged behind many states in providing prosecutors with the legal tools to go after these criminals.

As your new attorney general, it is my priority to tackle this issue head on. Working alongside lawmakers and Alabama’s district attorneys we were able to identify four key areas of weakness in Alabama’s sexual offense laws and draft legislation, SB-301, to catch up with changes in technology and criminal activity. SB-301 passed the Alabama Senate on April 14, and was approved by the Alabama House on May 19 and was signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey on May 26.

One major crime addressed by the new law is “revenge porn,” the nonconsensual distribution of sensitive images to harass or intimidate the victim. Revenge porn has become so rampant than an estimated 10 million Americans – mostly women ages 15 to 29 – have already been victimized by this activity. Until last month, Alabama was one of a dozen states without adequate legal protections against this crime. But no more. Under Alabama’s new law, perpetrators of revenge porn will face sentences of up to one year in prison for the first offense and up to 10 years for subsequent offenses.

We also took on a related form of criminal activity known as “sextortion.” Sextortion is the use of threatening communications, usually online, to force the victim to engage in unwanted sexual activity. This offense is now punishable by two to 20 years in prison for those found guilty of this form of illegal act.

Protecting children from sexual predators continues to be a major priority of my office and law enforcement. Under the updated sexual offense law, the penalties for those who direct children to engage in sexual acts will increase by one to 10 years in prison. Our toughened sexual offense law also expands the existing offense known as “electronic solicitation of a child” to cover certain grooming behaviors by would-be child molesters.

Assault with bodily fluids has also increased in recent years, in particular, the targeting law of enforcement personnel working in jails or prisons. Under the new law, this form of assault is now punishable by up to a year in prison, with up to 10 years for those who know they have a communicable disease.

The new law also clarifies various provisions of the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act to keep pace with the times. For example, it allows judges the flexibility to exempt juveniles from sex-offender registration who are found to have engaged in sexting-type behaviors.

I appreciate the leadership of Senator Vivian Figures of Mobile and Representative Randy Wood of Anniston for working with my office and district attorneys from across the state to ensure these much-needed updates to Alabama’s sexual offense law were quickly passed this legislative session. I also thank Governor Kay Ivey for signing this legislation into law.