GREAT FALLS — Sandi Filipowicz, director of the Great Falls YWCA, said on Monday that she is concerned that Senate Bill 240, if signed into law, would increase the number of sexual crimes that go unreported.
“It’s already a grossly underreported crime, especially in Montana,” Filipowicz said. "The danger is, the person who victimized them will victimize someone else."
The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton, calls for people to be penalized if they knowingly falsely report a crime. Falsely reporting a misdemeanor would cost a person up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail. For felonies, that increases to up to $10,000 and/or up four years in state prison.
While victims of sexual crimes aren't falsely reporting a crime, Filipowicz worries that may not be enough to avoid a penalty. "This will cause more people to hesitate and say 'Well, if I can't prove it then am I going to be at risk to be a criminal myself?’” Filipowicz said. "There are so many times when a sexual assault survivor goes to do a report and they don't have the information that the peace officers want because the trauma causes them to block it out."
MTN News has tried to contact Manzella by phone and e-mail several times for comment, but as of Monday afternoon had not gotten a response.
MTN also asked to speak to a victim, but Filipowicz did not have anyone she felt comfortable asking to speak.
She is not opposed to a penalty, but she says the language in the bill simply needs to change.
If the bill passes as it was written as of Monday, Filipowicz said her agency would work to repeal it.