Loophole lets child predators off the hook

SANTA FE (KRQE) – It was a strange but seemingly straightforward case.

Las Cruces Police Detective Kacee Thatcher was investigating a crime of revenge.

“A boyfriend and girlfriend had broken up,” Thatcher said. “The boyfriend was stalking her, harassing her constantly and when he wasn’t getting a reaction from the mother or a response, he started sending photos and texts to her 11-year-old son.”

And they weren’t just any photos. Thatcher says they were pictures of male genitalia.

Police arrested that boyfriend, Pete Lopez Jr., last year. Thatcher wanted to charge him with criminal sexual communication with a child, a sex crime and a fourth-degree felony, but ran into a problem.

“The victim’s mother said that wasn’t [Lopez Jr.'s genitalia],” Thatcher said.

That may seem like a minor point, but that’s when a glaring loophole got in the way.

Under New Mexico law, it’s a sexual offense if you send a picture of your own private parts to a child younger than 16. But if you send pictures of someone else’s private parts to that same child, it’s not a crime.

As a result, Thatcher could only charge Lopez Jr. with contributing to the delinquency of a minor which is not a sex offense.

That loophole applies in more dangerous situations, too.

When child predators are trying to lure kids into meeting and having sex with them, Thatcher says those offenders often send the kids pornographic pictures in an attempt to desensitize and “groom” would-be victims. More often than not, those pictures aren’t of the predator themselves.

With the governor’s backing, Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, is proposing a bill to close that loophole. The fix changes just one word in the law.

“It’s very non-partisan,” Fajardo said. “The end result is to protect our kids and so that’s the goal and we’re going to fix it.”

Fajardo’s bill cleared its first committee unanimously Thursday afternoon, but still has another committee before it gets to the House floor.

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