Around New England

Sex Between Teachers and Students A Crime?
Teachers’ Unions and ACLU Don’t Think So

April 9, 2019

A bill that would make sex between school employees and students a crime in Rhode Island even if the student is of legal age to consent is drawing opposition from the two statewide teachers’ unions and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The age of consent in Rhode Island is 16, as it is in Massachusetts.

But Rhode Island House Bill 5817 would make it a crime for teachers, administrators, other staff members, school bus drivers, school vendors, and volunteers who have supervisory authority to engage in sexual relations with any student, even those 17 and 18 years old.

Engaging in sex with a student is generally a firing offense for a teacher, but not a crime in Rhode Island if the student has reached the age of consent. The bill would define such behavior as third-degree sexual assault.

The bill’s sponsor, state Representative Alex Marszalkowski (D-Cumberland), notes that children are forced to go to school by law, and he wants them protected from sexual exploitation by people who work there, according to the Providence Journal.

A lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers says the bill unfairly singles out teachers while ignoring other adults who may have a supervisory role over students, such as legislators, store managers, coaches of non-school teams, and clerics, according to the Providence Journal.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also objects to singling out teachers and other school employees, and expressed concern about criminalizing sexual activity between school volunteers and students, since a volunteer coach could be close in age to a student.

“While one may disagree whether this type of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ conduct is appropriate … it should not be a felony,” the ACLU said, according to the Providence Journal.

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