Representative Sherry Roberts Statement on H5757 which strengthens and clarifies penalties for sexual assault


State House, Providence, RI – Representative Sherry Roberts offers the following statement on her bill, H5757, heard in House Judiciary, which strengthens and clarifies penalties for persons convicted of sexual assault:

Historically, Rhode Island has raced to compete with other states to be “first” on an entire host of issues that have been deemed a priority, but sadly in my experience, childhood sexual abuse has not been one of them. Furthermore, our priorities seem to have been somewhat misplaced, as there are laws that would put people in jail for longer periods of time for less offensive crimes, than for sexual assault against children. It often feels as if our children have taken the back seat as a priority, compared to many other issues that we have addressed.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and contrary to what some may even fully realize, I can affirmatively state that we have not created adequate laws to sufficiently protect children from sexual assault, nor have we made it easy for victims to receive justice after such a reprehensible crime -- a crime from which most victims have an extremely difficult time recovering.

Nationally, 44% of rape victims are under the age of 18, with the highest risk of victimization between the ages 12 - 34.  Only 6 in 1000 perpetrators will serve prison time for sexual assault. Rhode Island comes in 5th as one of the highest-ranking states for sexual assaults for school aged children according to the US Department of Education, and 59% of the assaults go unreported to the police. According to DCYF, in 2021, there were 6,938 child maltreatment cases in Rhode Island, with 4.7% of those cases deemed sexual abuse.

I would know this because prosecuting my offender was nearly impossible and it took me a lifetime to figure out how to navigate the system to overcome many obstacles, in search of results. As in my case, even when the victim seeks justice through the court system, the perpetrator can receive a simple slap on the wrist with a reduced sentence to avoid jail time. Make no mistake, this result is not justice. While the admission of guilt is a step in the right direction, the lack of consequence in the form of jail time, absolutely adds insult to injury. In fact, the lack of justice after such an experience, actually has a negative impact and re-victimizes the individual suffering from that deeply traumatizing event.

Today, we have the power to change that with House Bill H5757 by requiring people who are found guilty of 2nd degree sexual assault to be forced to serve a minimum jail sentence behind bars, which cannot be suspended or deferred. After all, the victim never has the ability to “opt-out” from the abuse, nor the lifetime of sufferable consequences.  Hopefully, clarifying the mandated sentence, that include jail time for childhood sexual assault, will help deter predators from destroying a child’s life in the future. If the passage of this bill can help just one child in the state of Rhode Island, then publicly pursuing my perpetrator was worth it.

Note:  On November 16, 2022, Representative Sherry Roberts received justice in a 40-year sexual abuse case, where the perpetrator was her stepfather.  He started grooming her at the age of eight and sexually assaulted during her teenage years. Harry Noel Edwards received a 10-year suspended sentence with probation after he agreed to plead no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree sexual assault.



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