Sex assault prevention group calls Tennessee lawmaker’s comments ‘strange’

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Tennessee bill making it easier to prosecute some sex crimes is getting national attention. So is what the bill’s co-sponsor said in an interview.

State Representative Mike Sparks invited News 2 to his office last week to talk about a bill he co-sponsored, which eliminates the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes. The bill, which is now law, makes it easier for survivors to prosecute their offenders.

At the time, News 2 asked if he hopes more victims will choose to prosecute their offenders.

“It’s uncomfortable for me, you know, to think that somebody could spend the rest of their life in jail,” he said. “It’s a little uncomfortable for me to think that, but that’s the victim’s decision.”

“You said you’re uncomfortable thinking about someone going to jail?” Asked News 2’s Jessica Jaglois.

“Well when I look at, if you’re gonna go back on somebody 30 years, that’s not up to me. That’s up to that victim,” he said. “If that victim wants to come forward, that’s up to them. That’s not up to me as a lawmaker. That’s their choice.”

“What makes you uncomfortable about someone going to jail for child sex abuse?” Asked Jaglois.

“Well it’s not really uncomfortable,” Sparks said. “It’s just, some of these things happen in families.”

News 2 reached out to the Rape And Incest National Network (RAINN) to talk about the law. We also asked about Rep. Sparks’ comments.

“I thought it was a really strange statement,” said Camille Cooper, Vice President of Public Policy for RAINN. “It shows he has a lack of understanding of the type of offenders we’re talking about and the need to be able to prosecute them criminally, to get them off the streets so they’re not offending against other people.”

Cooper said the bill doesn’t do enough to prosecute child and adult rapists. She called the bill ‘convoluted’ with loopholes and restrictions.

“What Tennessee should have done is gone in and abolished all the criminal statute of limitations and created a ‘look back window’ so that victims before July 1, 2019, should have had the doors of justice open to them and they didn’t do that either,” Cooper said.

Rep. Bill Dunn sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives.

“There might be more work that needs to be done, but I think this was a major step forward,” he told News 2.

“Tennesee has done some good stuff but I think it would benefit the legislature if they brought in some experts in the interim between sessions to be able to educate their members about who the majority of the victims are, how these offenses are committed, how many are serial predators and things like that,” Cooper said.

Rep. Dunn also said he is not sure what co-sponsor Sparks meant by his comments.

“If life in jail is what the crime calls for then that’s what it calls for,” Dunn said. “If people prey on little children, then there are consequences to it and we’ve put a sentence on it.”

RAINN said it plans to come to Tennessee to fix the loopholes in the law. According to the organization, only five out of 1,000 rapists will end up in prison.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault and need help or someone to talk to you, call RAINN’s 24-hour hotline at 800.656.HOPE.

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