Friday, February 21, 2014

Sen. Raskin's bill "turns our 16/17 year old sons and daughters into legally available sexual prey for 21 - 24 year old teachers or employees"

Child Justice

Testimony Opposing HB0781 / SB0460 Criminal Law - Person in a Position of Authority –
Sexual Offenses With a Minor

February 11 & 12, 2014

As a Maryland resident, I have no doubt the vast majority of Maryland parents agree that teachers, principals and other professionals in our schools, part-time and full-time, should be held to a high standard for their conduct with our children and teenagers who we entrust to them.  They educate and guide, preparing children for life.

On the one hand, Maryland parents might be heartened to see that, under HB0781/SB0460 part-time employees would be considered to be in Positions of Authority.  This makes sense: we don’t want to weaken laws protecting our minors, we want to strengthen them.

But HB0781/SB0460 gives with one hand and takes away with the other.  By changing the age difference to 7 years between the teacher and minor, this bill turns our 16/17 year old sons and daughters into legally available sexual prey for 21 - 24 year old teachers or employees: the same conduct by permanent full-time teachers on campus, on school time would be a crime, but off campus, off time it would be legal. Reducing protections for our teens does not make sense for Maryland parents or as good policy in the public interest.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to picture 16 and 17 year olds who will be flattered, pressured, groomed into agreeing to meet with their instructors off campus.  Teens feel both insecure and invincible as they begin to experience the challenges of life.  Many of our children come from stressed or single parent families, increasing the minor’s longing for connection and relationship as well as their vulnerability. But persons in authority in their early twenties are not looking for emotionally deep, long-term relationships with 16 and 17 year olds.

Moreover, HB0781/SB0460 provides a defense for sexual conduct between 16/17 year olds and 21- 24 year olds: the person in authority must know that the student or participant was under his or her supervision at the covered institution and activity.

If I had a 16 year old son or daughter, I wouldn’t want him or her to be viewed as legally available prey off time, off campus by teachers or employees who are 21, 22, 23 and 24 years old.  And I can’t imagine any parent in my circle of friends or thousands upon thousands of Maryland parents think that 21- 24 year old teachers and other employees should be given a free pass to sexually exploit vulnerable teens off campus, off time. 

The Committees should note that on August 30, 2013, the Washington Post carried an Op Ed by Betsy Karasik with the title “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students”.  She wrote “I don’t believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized.”  The Post received approximately 3,000 letters from its readers in response, the vast majority of which were outraged by this proposition.

Child Justice supports HB0362 Criminal Law - Part-Time School Employees, Contractors, and Coaches - Sexual Contact With Minors Prohibited is a straightforward bill with more protections for our 16 and 17 year olds.

For the above reasons, we urge you to give HB0781/SB0460 an unfavorable report out of the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Respectfully submitted,

Eileen King
Executive Director
Child Justice, Inc.
901 K Street, N.W. Ste. 700 Washington, D.C. 20001
Office: 301-283-1762

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