A proposed fee for sex offenders could help pay to expand Ohio’s rape-crisis programs and help offset a societal complacency with rape — a component, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, of the Steubenville trial that ended on Sunday in guilty verdicts for two high-school football players.
“What happened in Steubenville isn’t an isolated event. It’s not unique,” DeWine said at a news conference yesterday. “(These crimes) are occurring in communities big and small, east, west, north and south.”
A House bill announced by Rep. Nan Baker, R-Westlake, and Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, at the event would set aside $2 million for a trust fund to support rape-crisis programs.
The bill also would require sex offenders to pay a $100 fee when they initially register in the state and relocate.
Whether sex offenders would pay every time they register in the state, a requirement and frequency that depends on the nature of the crime, will be worked out in committee discussions, Baker said.
The fee is expected to generate about $200,000 annually, but it would have to be divided among the state’s 27 rape-crisis programs, which cover 36 counties.
Some are skeptical that the money generated from the fee would accomplish much.
“Anytime you’re looking at this kind of ‘getting tougher on sex offender’ legislation, people need to ask if it’s going to accomplish the goal, and that’s to reduce sexual violence. We think the answer is no,” said Nick Worner, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rape-crisis programs are mostly funded by state and federal grant money. The “comprehensive” program for victims of sexual assault includes offering a 24-hour crisis hot line, criminal-justice advocates and crisis-intervention services.
“We need all of the components of this bill,” said Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “$200,000 isn’t that much to fund these programs. We really have to invest to be able to provide these services.”
This money would help expand those programs into every county in the state within five years. DeWine said he plans to hire regional sexual-assault coordinators who would work to get more crisis programs started — especially in pockets of counties that don’t offer any of these services.
“It shouldn’t matter — it must not matter — what county you live in. If you are a victim, you deserve the most-comprehensive services available,” DeWine said.
Sara Jerde - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT). Sara Jerde is a fellow in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.
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