The Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 1, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

The Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 1, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

House passes bill altering wording of sex crimes against children

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer

JUNEAU — The Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill changing the way sex crimes against children are worded in state law.

The bill replaces uses of the term “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material” in all instances it appears in Alaska Statute. It’s sponsored by Rep. Sarah Vance, a Republican from Homer, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

In bringing the bill forward, Vance said Wednesday that Alaska Statute should differentiate between illegal child pornography and legal adult pornography.

“The reality is that pornography exists and it is recognized as a legal adult industry,” Vance said. “However, what we’re addressing here is a crime — a malicious crime that inflicts harm on children and robs them of their innocence. It’s crucial to distinguish this criminal activity … from the broader category of pornography.”

Among the groups that have backed the bill are Community United for Safety and Protection, the Child Rescue Coalition and the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

In a letter explaining its support for the bill, the Child Rescue Coalition said the problem is more than wording. The phrase “child pornography,” the group says, is misleading and suggests the act is consensual. Changing the language recognizes the gravity of the crime and moves statute toward more accurate language that puts victims first.

“Child sexual abuse is a heinous crime that inflicts lasting trauma on its victims,” the group’s letter says. “The terminology used to describe such offenses is not merely a matter of semantics but plays a crucial role in shaping public perception and legal frameworks.”

Anchorage Democrat Cliff Groh was one of multiple lawmakers to speak in support of the bill on the House floor Wednesday.

“As a former prosecutor trying these cases, in both urban and rural Alaska, I support this legislation,” Groh said.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the bill and passed it by a vote of 39-1. The only vote in opposition came from Wasilla Republican David Eastman.

If passed, the new language would mean that people who would have previously faced charges associated with child pornography would now face charges associated with child sexual abuse material.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

This reporting from the State Capitol was made possible by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism’s Legislative Reporter Exchange. Alaska news outlets, please contact Erin Thompson at editor@peninsulaclarion.com. to republish this story.

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