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Bill criminalizing possession, manufacture of sex dolls moves to Senate
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Bill criminalizing possession, manufacture of sex dolls moves to Senate

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Sen. Jessica Castleberry

Jessica Castleberry

A bill that would establish the possession, manufacturing, and distribution of childlike sex dolls as a crime, introduced by Sen. Jessica Castleberry, R-Rapid City, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.

Committee chair Sen. Arthur Rusch, R-Vermillion, said that while the do-pass motion was unanimous, the bill would likely generate discussion on the Senate floor and declined to put it on the consent calendar.

“We are very excited that the bill made it out of committee today, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to discuss this important topic with the rest of the Senate,” Castleberry told the Rapid City Journal. “It’s important to raise awareness how the manufacture of these types of items can be a gateway to further abuse of children.”

Two amendments to the bill, labeled B and C, were also approved unanimously before the final vote. Castleberry said that following the initial bill hearing, the changes were made to address concerns of the opponents.

Amendment B clarified language relating to the obscenity of childlike sex dolls and specified the bill’s focus on dolls “intentionally designed to resemble a prepubescent child to entice sexual excitement.” Amendment B also changes the punishment for purchasing or possessing a childlike sex doll from a Class 4 felony to a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can lead to one year in prison and $2,000 in fines. For people convicted of a second violation, the punishment is a Class 6 felony, which can lead to two years in prison and $4,000 in fines. Amendment C removes the word "either" from the definition section of the bill.

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The first section of the bill, which remained unchanged, makes it a Class 4 felony — up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines — to create, knowingly permit the creation of, or knowingly distribute or sell a child-like sex doll. A subsequent violation would be a Class 3 felony — up to 15 years in prison and $30,000 in fines.

Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron, moved to pass the bill and thanked Castleberry for working on it and bringing it forward. Sen. Helene Duhamel, R-Rapid City, seconded the motion.

Although the bill passed committee unanimously, there is not unified support for it. Eric Whitcher, director of the law office of the Pennington County Public Defender, said he doesn't believe this is an issue in South Dakota.

This bill seeks to criminalize and potentially imprison for 10 years behavior that is rooted in morals, rather than behavior that victimizes others, which is a stark departure from child pornography where there are clear victims," Whitcher said. "In nearly 25 years practicing in criminal defense, I have not heard of the use of 'sex dolls.' I would recommend that if the Legislature believes this is worth writing into the code, the penalty should be limited to a psycho-sexual evaluation and compliance with those recommendations."

He continued, "Furthermore, the text of the draft legislation defines a 'childlike sex doll' as 'any anatomical doll, mannequin, or robot having features or resembling features of a minor…' All anatomical dolls, mannequins and robots have features that will resemble a minor, including arms and legs. These 'I’ll know it when I see it' type of laws can ensnare innocent people as we all have different sensibilities and opinions. I’m concerned that a doll with slightly larger eyes or a petite figure could be included in this vague and expansive definition."

Florida and Tennessee recently passed similar laws banning child-like sex dolls.

Journal reporter Arielle Zionts contributed to this story.

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