Imagine this scenario: You're homeless, you can't find a bathroom, so you urinate in an alley.
You get caught, and you're charged with indecent exposure. Now, suddenly, you're sex offender. And now, your chances of finding a job and starting anew any time soon have just been greatly reduced, since a lot of companies simply won't hire sex offenders.
Colorado House Bill 10-1334 aims to put an end to the above scenario. Under the bill, getting nude in public would only be classified as a sex offense if it were done for sexual gratification. That means idiot streakers at football games and joggers relieving themselves behind bushes would no longer have to face the stigma of being grouped with violent rapists and child molesters.
The bill also creates stiffer penalties for public masturbation, which would go from a petty offense to indecent exposure. The latter is a sex offense in Colorado.
The bill has been approved by the state House. A slightly altered version will soon go before the Senate. And Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, says he wants to see the bill pass.
"I know there are times when people find themselves in situations where they've got to 'go' right that minute," says Morse, a former law enforcement officer himself and Fountain's ex-police chief. "To characterize those folks as sex offenders ... that's just ridiculous."
Locally, it's not uncommon to find police already avoiding such draconian measures. Colorado Springs Police officer Brett Iverson, leader of the Homeless Outreach Team, says when police find someone using a bush for a toilet, they usually charge them with breaking the city ordinance against public urination and defecation. That's a petty offense, which carries a $50 fine and is not considered a sex crime. However, Iverson notes, if someone is "walking down the middle of Tejon [Street]" with his drawers down, the police are likely to charge him with indecent exposure, a sex offense.
"Each circumstance is different," he notes, adding that the laws may not be as lenient in other parts of the state.
But more lenient laws in the Springs apparently haven't spared everyone. However it happens, homeless people do end up with sex offenses tied to public urination, Homeward Pikes Peak Executive Director Bob Holmes confirms.
"I've been, pardon the pun, exposed to the problem," he says.
Holmes adds that he's all for punishing pedophiles and rapists, but he doesn't think a homeless person nuzzling up to a bush or an 18-year-old running naked at a sports game deserve to be grouped alongside the real sickos.
Christine Burns, executive director of the Harbor House Collaborative, which has a recovery program for homeless substance abusers, echoes Holmes' sentiments and also notes that a homeless person labeled a sex offender will have a harder time getting back on his feet.
She says there are some companies that will hire sex offenders; private companies and small companies, for instance, are often willing to look at applicants on a case-by-case basis. But some larger companies have broad policies that won't allow them to hire a sex offender, or a felon. So a criminal background, and especially a sex offense, can lower the chances of someone finding employment.
"It just simply makes the job search that much more difficult," she says.