A new bill is seeking to help police officers better identify perpetrators of unwanted sexual encounters.
Under current law, a person who commits an act of unwanted sexual touching on an individual over 16 would be charged with simple battery. This legislation would differentiate sexual crimes from simple battery, Chaney said, adding that police officers have found that sexual offenders can often escalate, unlike other crimes defined under simple battery.
“The genesis of the bill is from some police officers, who said when a perpetrator is being sexually aggressive with unwanted touch, that currently is simple battery, but that is typically characteristic of much more aggression,” said Chaney, a Pinellas County Republican. “And, as police officers, they would like to know that.”
The legislation defines “lewd and lascivious molestation” as a person intentionally touching another against his or her will in an inappropriate manner on the breasts, genital area or butt, or if an individual forces another person to touch them in such a manner. The bill dictates the crime as a first degree misdemeanor, and a subsequent violation as a third degree felony.
“If it’s unwanted sexual touching, that’s very different than simple battery, where somebody, for instance, may throw a glass of water in your face,” Chaney said. “They feel there’s value in identifying somebody who’s doing unwanted sexual touching versus somebody who’s doing simple battery. There’s value in knowing the difference.”
The legislation already seems to have some bipartisan support, with Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book signing on as a co-sponsor to the Senate bill. The Senate version of the bill is set to be heard in Tuesday’s Criminal Justice Committee at noon.
“Community safety is really important to me. I was a single mom and I counted on community safety and our police having all the tools they needed to do the best job they could do,” Chaney said. “And I feel that this is a bill that does that — it provides another tool in the toolbox for our police officers to keep our community safe.”