Two bills in Nebraska aim to stop predators earlier in grooming process

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – New proposals could help protect the most vulnerable Nebraskans from online predators and scammers.

This comes amid a rise in sextortion cases being reported by minors across the state and nation.

Nebraska’s laws on digital grooming have not been updated since 2009.

Digital grooming is the use of a digital device or social media platform to establish an emotional connection with a vulnerable adult or child with the intent of abuse or exploitation.

“The easy accessibility to children in digital spaces has never been as simple as it is today,” said Amie Konwinski, founder and CEO of Smart Gen Society. “Predators online have become emboldened by the easy accessibility to literally millions of minors known through social media.”

State Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha said that leaves room for many Nebraskans to go unsupported and unprotected.

So he introduced Legislative Bills 106 and 107, which were heard together on Thursday.

LB 106 would create a new criminal offense in Nebraska called digital grooming of a vulnerable adult.

Anyone 19 amd older could be charged with it if they knowingly use an electronic device or social media to commit a misdemeanor or felony against a vulnerable adult.

LB 107 is aimed at keeping children safe. Adults could be charged with another proposed digital grooming offense if they go after kids 16 and under online.

Both bills are meant to build on current laws, enabling law enforcement to intervene earlier in the grooming process.

In this way, the hope is for less trauma for the victims.

Victims of online grooming came to the Capitol in support, including one woman who shared the story of her relationship with her soccer coach as a 13-year-old.

Grace Corrigan said adults are supposed to be trusted role models with a kid’s best interests at heart.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case for many kids, and this was certainly not the case for me,” she said. “He would often make comments about my body and start calling me his ‘hot, sexy favorite.’ Things continued to get worse; he would talk about my body, and he would ask for me to send him pictures.”

But the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association came in opposition, saying the proposed bills would actually lessen predators’ charges if the bills were to pass as written.

“Not only is this proposal and LB 107 unnecessary, but it’s going to recriminalize existing criminal conduct,” spokesman Spike Eickholt said. “It’s going to provide for a lesser penalty than currently exists in the law, which is going to cause some confusion. And it’s even more confusing for purposes of double jeopardy, lesser included offenses and that sort of thing.”

McDonnell said if this is true, he is willing to work to make it right.

He said his main goal is to hold predators accountable by going after them as early as possible.

And he said the hearing was just one of the steps to get the right legislation in place.

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