Maine law forbids asking minor for sex on the Internet, but not in person

Posted Nov. 01, 2011, at 6:24 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine – Last summer Rebekah Troyer of Corinna was shocked to find it was not a crime for her 30-something neighbor to ask her 14-year-old daughter to have sex with him. She asked state Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, for help.

He and other State House leaders unanimously approved legislation Monday for consideration in January that would make this a crime.

“This was a surprise to me as it was to her,” Hobbins said. “This is a significant loophole in the law that needs to be closed as soon as possible.”

In an email to Hobbins, Troyer spelled out the incident and her frustration with the legal system that makes it a crime to solicit sex with a minor over the Internet but not in person.

“Our 14-year-old daughter was explicitly propositioned by our 30-something-year-old neighbor,” she wrote. “We called the police and we were informed there was nothing illegal about what he did, even after the trooper spoke to him and he confessed.”

Troyer wrote that she is upset that the law does not make solicitation of the crime of sex with a minor a crime itself. Sexual exploitation of a minor is a Class B crime, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. If the child is under 12, it increases to a Class A offense with a penalty of up to 20 years on prison.

Hobbins agrees that the neighbor’s action should be a crime and he had his staff check with the Attorney General’s Office to make sure it is a loophole before submitting the legislation.

“We were told that this is a problem we should look at,” he said. “This bill will try to address her concerns.”

Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, is co-chairman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee and he was surprised that laws do not cover the situation given the attention to crimes against minors over the last decade.

Plummer said no matter how serious a matter he does not like to “fast track” legislation because he has seen mistakes in past measures come back to cause serious problems. He said the public hearing process followed by committee work sessions on a bill make for a better law.

“Particularly when we are talking about criminal laws,” he said.

Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, is the Democrat lead on the panel and shared Plummer’s surprise that the behavior was not already a crime.

“I think you will see the committee act pretty fast and probably put an emergency enactor on this bill so it takes effect as soon as it is signed,” she said. “I am surprised that this is not a crime and even more surprised that this is the first time that this has come to our attention.”

Haskell agreed the legislation will get a thorough hearing and she wants to hear from prosecutors why the issue never has been brought to the attention of lawmakers.

Evert Fowle, vice president of the Maine Prosecutors Association and district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said it appears there is no law on the books that clearly addresses the situation.

“I think it is sound public policy to say that if it is a crime to solicit a minor over the Internet it should be a crime to solicit a minor face to face,” he said.

Fowle said drafting the statue is not as simple as it sounds. For example, consensual sex between a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old is not a crime, so the solicitation statue should take that into account.

“As a father of a 14-year-old daughter myself, I have great sympathy for what this mother has gone through,” he said.

Troyer could not be reached by phone or email Tuesday, but in her email to Hobbins she stressed the toll the incident has had on her family.

“We feel helpless right now and are not sure it’s safe for our children to go outside, especially since this neighbor knows we called the police and attempted a protection order,” she said. “He is obviously unstable.”

The measure will have a public hearing when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

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