The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has passed a bill that would provide stiffer penalties for school employees who engage in sex acts with students over the age of 16. Under current law they can be charged only with a misdemeanor offense of corrupting minors. The bill’s primary sponsor, Montgomery County State Representative Todd Stephens, says it would make such contact a felony under the institutional sex assault law, and it goes beyond teachers.
“The goal is to ensure that when our children are going off to school, regardless of how old they are, they aren’t targets for this kind of sexual behavior by an unscrupulous employee, faculty member, coach, anyone that may come in contact with them.”
He says it would apply even if the student is legally an adult.
“Certainly they could be 18 and maybe even 19 – anyone who’s attending high school, because to me it’s about the status. We need to maintain the authority that teachers, coaches and guidance counselors have over students, and in order to maintain that hierarchy you cannot permit sexual activity between folks of those different statuses.”
He says students deserve more protection.
“They have enough they’re dealing with day to day as they’re trying to make it through school and work towards graduation and whatever they’re going to do beyond school. The last thing they really need is the person who’s grading their papers preying on them sexually and putting those students in a position where they think that they really don’t have a choice about their actions.”
Stephens headed the Sex Crimes Unit in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office for several years, and he says the idea came from his former colleague, Assistant DA Kate McGill. The bill still needs state senate approval and the governor’s signature before it becomes law.