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French Kisses or Sex-Offense Loophole? Law Isn't Clear



Editor's note: In the print edition, Style inadvertently omitted the last name of Roland Delbert Knight Jr., and his wife, Barbara Knight.

What's a little French-kiss make-out session between a pre-pubescent child and a trusted adult? Not much, according to Virginia criminal code.

In fact, this bit of pedophiliac behavior rates only a Class 1 misdemeanor. And offenders needn't worry about their good name being sullied — the guilty are not added to the state's sex-offender registry.

It's a sick reality that has one Varina mother, whose daughter was molested by a baby sitter's husband two years ago, campaigning to change the law. She has the support of Delegate Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, and both of them say that corrective legislation is on the way.

Sydney Smith (Style has changed the mother's name to protect her daughter's identity) trusted Barbara Knight with her daughter's safety. Smith says she never had any reason to doubt the grandmotherly child-care provider — or Knight's husband, Roland Delbert Knight Jr.

But when her 10-year-old daughter began reacting strangely after coming home from the Knights' home, Smith says she became suspicious.

"I could tell something was wrong," Smith says, "but I wasn't sure if it was something major." After repeated prodding, she says, her daughter finally opened up.

As Smith recounts, "She said, 'I don't like him; he kisses me on the mouth.' I said OK. I said, So what else? She said, 'I don't like that he was talking about my breasts.'"

Confronted by Smith, Roland Knight, who was 62 at the time of the crime, told his wife that he and the girl had kissed, but that Smith's daughter had initiated it. Smith says the wife told her that she wasn't satisfied with her husband's answer.

When Henrico Police arrested Knight, he admitted to kissing the girl "15 to 20 times," Smith says. "He also admitted to making the comment about her breasts," she says, and to open-mouth kissing of another girl in his wife's care.

Because state code doesn't provide for soft-core molesters, prosecutors charged Knight with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Knight was convicted in June 2005. According to court records, he was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with all but 30 days suspended, and 150 hours of community service. A woman who answered the phone at the Knights' home at 3275 Britton Road declined to comment.

The judge also ordered that Knight complete six months of sex-offender therapy, though he was not required to register as a sex offender. Released to the supervision of his wife in 2005, Knight was restricted from unsupervised contact with children for six months.

But because his wife was his court-appointed guardian, thus satisfying the "no unsupervised contact" part of the judge's order, Knight could legally have contact with the children still in his wife's care as a child-care provider, Smith says.

"Him and his wife continue to watch children in their home," Smith says.

It's a disturbing state of affairs, Ingram says. "The child was being French-kissed by an older man," he repeats, somewhat incredulously, faulting the law for an oversight in language. "It's an unusual situation and it's very unfortunate. Why would any adult molest a child in that way? And in my opinion, that's definitely molesting."

He speculates that such behavior is a gateway crime for pederasts. Molesters like Knight, Ingram says, "are definitely up to something that leads to something else."

Ingram hopes to have corrective legislation ready to introduce during the 2008 General Assembly session.

That's none too soon for Smith. "It won't do anything to help my daughter," she says. "But this isn't about us — it's about making sure this can't happen again." S

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