Does an offender commit intentional physical harm to a child when he touches a child in a sexual manner but does not cause physical pain or injury to the child?
In a recent decision, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled no injury, no harm, resulting in the removal of a convicted child molester from the state’s sex offender registry. 1
In 1993, Blake Randle pled guilty to one count of child molestation. He was sentenced to three years in prison for touching the penis of a ten-year-old boy. After completing his prison sentence, Mr. Randle registered as a sex offender. 2
Ten years after completing his sentence, Mr. Randle was eligible to petition for removal from the registry provided he met certain other criteria:
- no prior convictions for sexual offenses or obscenity in relation to minors;
- the offense did not involve use of a deadly weapon;
- no evidence of similar transactions;
- offense did not involve the transportation of the victim;
- the victim was not physically restrained; and
- the victim did not suffer any intentional physical harm during the commission of the offense. 3
In Randle, the case turned on the definition of “intentional physical harm”. The State argued that because Mr. Randle’s underlying sexual offense involved physical contact with the genitals of a child, it created a presumption of “intentional physical harm”.
The Supreme Court rejected the State’s argument, ruling that the legislature distinguishes “insulting or provoking physical contact” from intentional “physical harm”. Physical harm, the Court said, involves infliction of pain or physical injury. Because the child victim in the Randlecase did not suffer physical harm, Mr. Randle, a convicted child molester, met the criteria for removal from the registry.
Common sense dictates that physical wounds often heal much faster than psychological wounds. While a victim may not suffer intentional “physical harm” during the commission of sexual assault, he or she may suffer severe psychological injuries that never heal, especially if the victim is a child.
Victims of sexual assault, particularly child victims, deserve better treatment under Georgia law.
The criteria for removal from the registry should be amended to create a presumption of intentional physical harm when a child is the victim of a sexual assault. It should also require a showing that the victim (adult or child) was not threatened with physical harm during the assault and did not suffer severe psychological injury as a result of the assault. Even in the absence of a deadly weapon, the threats employed by some offenders against their victims, especially child victims, are often as effective as use of an actual deadly weapon.
The Randle decision illustrates flaws in how physical harm is defined as it relates to child victims and removal of offenders from the registry. Hopefully, the legislature will see fit to correct it.