SALT LAKE CITY -- Weber County officials were shocked when they learned they couldn't charge a 27-year-old man with kidnapping after he kept a 14-year-old girl with him without her parents' permission.
"How can an adult man take a 14-year-old girl without the consent of her parents and keep her as long as he wants to?" asked Rod Layton, executive director of Weber/Morgan Children's Justice Center.
The 14-year-old went willingly with the man in the 2010 case, and that's where the loophole exists.
Layton spoke Thursday in behalf of House Bill 159, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden.
The bill would make it illegal for anyone who is four years or more older than a minor, age 14 or older, to keep them without their parents' consent, even if the teen consents to be with the older individual. Children younger than 14 are already covered by kidnapping statutes in similar situations.
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith told the committee there is no law in Utah that prevents an adult from taking a 14- or 15-year-old with them without parental consent.
Smith said in this particular case, he scoured the law books and found it is legal for adults to keep a 14- or 15-year-old with them without their parents consent as long as the victim says they went willingly and no sexual activity occurred.
Smith said the current law is confusing and difficult to prosecute. One section of the law says it is illegal for anyone to take a minor without the consent of a parent, while another section says a 14-year-old or older can give consent to go with an adult.
Dee said too often the perpetrators groom the 14- and 15-year-old and they believe they are in love "and won't say anything happened."
Layton said the children's justice center staff, which consists of law enforcement personnel, social workers and a county attorney, discussed possible charges against the 27-year-old man who took the 14-year-old girl from her home without her parents' consent.
She was found a day later in Utah County. The man was charged with third-degree felony unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the bill, which now goes before the House.