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A contentious Farm Bill heads to U.S. House for debate. Also on our rundown: gaps cited in protections for small-business employees and nonprofit volunteers; plus power out for much of Puerto Rico; and some warning signs, that increased youth activism may not correspond to voter turnout.

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Sexual Assault Prevention Advocates Urge Sentencing Leeway for Judges

April 5, 2013

SALEM, Ore. – It's Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and at a hearing today in Salem, advocates for victims say they're supporting a shift in Oregon's priorities for criminal justice. That includes legislation that would allow some sentencing changes.

Supporters say giving judges more discretion in sentencing in some assault and sexual abuse cases could ultimately free up more funding for victim services and rehabilitation for offenders.

Brie Akins, a steering committee member with the Oregon Alliance to End Violence Against Women, says these types of offenses just haven't fit the mandatory minimum sentence model.

"Judges really need to have the ability to consider the individual circumstances of each case,” she says, “so that they can really understand each offender's individual risk and make decisions about sentencing and treatment that keep victims and our communities safe."

Akins says only about half of sexual assault victims come forward, partly because while they want the abuse to stop, they don't want to see a lengthy prison term for their spouse or partner.

House Bill 3194 mirrors the recent recommendations of the governor's Commission on Public Safety. The commission has said Oregon is locking people up at a rate that's triple the national average.

Niki Terzieff, a spokeswoman for the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says her group believes there's a better way to handle some incidents and save the state money.

"Maybe it's community corrections,” she says. “Maybe it's parole-probation. Maybe it's intervention and substance abuse treatment. There are a whole variety of non-statewide solutions that, if we opt to employ, then the dollars that are saved can be seen to reinvest."

Terzieff says the statewide shelter and support system for domestic violence victims receives only about half of the money it needs from the legislature to meet the growing requests for services.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR