Mendenhall: Protect Our Kids From Predators


The Utah State Capitol building | The Daily Utah Chronicle archives

By Addison Mendenhall


Utah’s 2023 State Legislative session contains several bills and amendments related to sex offender guidelines and violations. One such bill, H.B. 99, is sponsored by Rep. Brady Brammer and amends previous sex offender restrictions. It essentially increases the penalty for repeat sex offenders — once a violation occurs and there’s a previous sex offense conviction, the charge changes from a class A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Increasing the penalty for repeat sex offenders through H.B. 99 will only continue to benefit and protect children and their families.

When asked about the purpose of the change, Brammer said, “I think it’s to allow some flexibility for increased charge on when … it’s warranted due to repeat violations.” The change in language to this bill is certainly appealing — sex offender laws are becoming more and more severe, and for good reason.

Take the story of Paul Bryant. Bryant was booked into the Utah County Jail with 27 felony counts, including aggravated sexual abuse of a child and sexual battery. Although each count that Bryant plead guilty to would land him 3+ years in jail, Judge Samuel McVey suspended any major sentence he would receive and instead placed him on a 60-month probation after only serving two years.

Rep. Brammer shared this story with me because it’s one of the reasons that inspired him to want the penalty for repeat offenders to increase. He said, “… if it’s always probation, and then they get off probation … then they get off, and tend not to change behavior.”

Bryant became the HOA president of his Lehi neighborhood, and since stepping into that position, concerned neighbors have rightfully raised concerns about the possible abuse of power combined with his predatory background.

Another such incident of a repeat sex offense happened in April 2022. John Thomas Winter was sentenced from five years to life after being convicted of a first-degree felony. His full sentence still has yet to be determined by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Winter had previously been convicted of child sex abuse in 2007 and was charged again in 2016. Unfortunately, Winter was not convicted for the 2016 charges, and they were dismissed. If he had been convicted for these charges, he would have faced a life sentence in prison for both of his previous crimes stacking in addition to the most recent 2022 charges.

We cannot continue to allow predators to slip through the cracks and repeatedly commit more sex offenses.

Because we all know of the awful nature of sexual assault crimes, it’s essential we make necessary changes like the ones outlined in H.B. 99 to keep our children safe. But our legislature has been lacking thus far, as there are holes allowing predators to commit offenses and remain unscathed. This is precisely why our legislation requires language changes and considering the implementation of this amendment, we’re heading in the right direction when it comes to sexual predators.

Not to mention, sexual assault is grossly underreported, and a conviction is less likely to occur. RAINN published statistics that show how between 2005 and 2010, only 17% of victims who reported their assaults did so to punish and/or prevent an offender from reoffending. What’s disturbing is how out of all reported cases of sexual assault, 70% of them occur to children 17 years old or younger. The majority of sexual assault against minors occurs in places that are easy to access, including schools, churches, extracurricular clubs and functions.

This is where the importance of language within H.B. 99 comes into play — throughout the bill, there are many sections that specifically acknowledge daycares, schools, swimming pools, playgrounds and parks. Changing the language of the bill and directly calling out some of the most prevalent places for sexual assault to occur is the most important call to action that this legislature has brought forth.

Sexual predators abuse their positions of power to violate other people. Allowing offenders such as Bryant and Winter to walk away with mere slaps on the wrist disgusts me. I hope this legislation will help our judges and lawmakers do better to best protect our community’s children and ensure parents feel at ease when their kids go to school or extracurricular activities. Hopefully, H.B. 99 is passed soon, so repeat offenders can be subject to the more severe penalties they deserve.


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