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Lake County victim pushes for tougher laws against child rape
By Jameel Naqvi | Daily Herald Staff

Jasmine Jimenez, a victim of sexual assault when she was 11, speaks in favor of Jasmine's Law, a proposal before the state legislature that would mandate tougher penalties for child predators.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Jasmine Jimenez was sexually assaulted by an adult male relative when she was just 11. Now a student Washington and Lee University in Virginia, the Ingleside resident also is an advocate for tougher laws against child predators.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia has filed a bill in the state House that would mandate longer prison terms for child predators, force courts to consider whether an offender used drugs or alcohol to take advantage of a victim and require authorities to notify victims of their rights.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/10/2010 12:02 AM

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As the man who sexually assaulted her 11-year-old daughter was about to be sentenced in a Lake County courtroom in 2003, Denise Rotheimer got the attention of the bailiff and asked to speak.

The judge allowed Rotheimer to state the legal definition of child rape and to discuss the details of the case before the prosecutor cut her off, Rotheimer says.

After hearing Rotheimer's statement, the judge tossed out the defendant's plea deal for six years in prison and instead gave him a term of seven and a half years.

Although the final sentence was harsher than the initial plea bargain, Rotheimer and her daughter, Jasmine Jimenez, say it wasn't enough.

Moreover, they say prosecutors cut them out of the legal process, dropping charges alleging the defendant assaulted another underage girl and denying Jasmine and the other victim the opportunity to testify.

"I had to fight for the longer sentencing," Rotheimer said. "Had I known I had the right to make a victim impact statement, I wouldn't have had to beg the bailiff."

Inspired by their legal ordeal, Rotheimer and Jimenez are pushing for a state law that would increase minimum prison terms for child predators, force courts to consider whether the offender compromised a victim with alcohol or drugs and require authorities to inform victims of their rights.

The mother-daughter team from Ingleside spoke of their struggles in the court system and their seven-year fight to change state law at a Saturday morning news conference at Barrington High School.

With little hesitation, Jimenez, now a 19-year-old sophomore on full scholarship at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, recounted how an adult relative plied her and another underage female cousin with alcohol before assaulting both of them in 2001.

"I share my story because I strongly believe Jasmine's Law will protect children in our community from sexual abuse," Jimenez said. "It's so important that we keep these types of perpetrators in jail for a long period of time."

As proposed, Jasmine's Law would tack 11 years onto the sentence of those who commit the worst sex crimes against a minor.

Victims would receive a statement of their rights and have those rights explained to them, under the proposal.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, an Aurora Democrat, filed the bill in the state House this week. Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Addison Republican, plans to become chief sponsor. The measure appears to have some support from Gov. Pat Quinn.

"It's clear that more needs to be done," Lindsay Anderson, Quinn's legislative director, said Saturday. "I look forward to working with you ... to make the law stronger."

Chapa LaVia and Reboletti said much more work needs to be done on the legislation but that they hope for spring passage. It won't come one day too soon for Rotheimer and her daughter.

"I can't rest until justice is served," Rotheimer said. "It's not acceptable."

To find out more, visit momsv.org.