Bill Would Criminalize Sexual Contact Between Teachers and Students Under Age 20 Passes Full Assembly
(TRENTON) – Continuing efforts to combat sexual assault between teachers and students, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji, Pamela Lampitt, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and John Armato that would criminalize sexual contact between teachers and students under 20 years old was approved on Thursday by the full Assembly.
“We see countless cases of inappropriate student-teacher relationships nowadays, perhaps due to the fact that technology and social media have bridged the personal space that once existed between students and teachers,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Regardless, even when a high school student reaches the age of 18, a teacher’s supervisory power makes any sexual relationship inherently coercive and inappropriate. This bill will make that explicitly clear.”
“Even though an 18-year-old student is legally an adult, the power a teacher or other school employee holds over him or her makes any sexual relationship innately compulsory,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “It’s never appropriate for a teacher to engage in any kind of sexual contact with a student, no matter their age. These teachers should be held accountable.”
The bill (A-1909) makes a person guilty of sexual assault if he or she commits an act involving the sexual penetration of a victim who is 18 years old or older and less than 20 years old, if the victim is a student in a school where the actor is a teaching staff member, substitute teacher, school bus driver, other school employee, contracted service provider or volunteer and has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim.
The measure expands current law, under which a person with “supervisory or disciplinary power of any nature or in any capacity” over a minor at least 16 but less than 18 years old who commits an act of sexual penetration with that minor is guilty of sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a crime of the second degree and is typically punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, or a fine of up to $150,000, or both.
“The number of improper instances between teenagers and teachers appears to be increasing,” said Chiaravalloti (D- Hudson). “Teachers, who are authority figures, need to understand that the power imbalance supersedes any ‘consent’ received by students and that such relations are inappropriate. We need to close this loophole to make that message clear.”
“By pursuing a sexual relationship with a student, a teacher has taken advantage of the power they hold over that student,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Whether that student is 16 or nearly 20, that behavior should not be tolerated in New Jersey.”
Under the bill, “teaching staff member” is defined under existing law as a member of the professional staff of any district or regional board of education, or any board of education of a county vocational school, holding office, position or employment of such character that the qualifications, for such office, position or employment, require him to hold a valid and effective standard, provisional or emergency certificate, appropriate to his office, position or employment, issued by the State Board of Examiners and includes a school nurse and a school athletic trainer.
“It’s my hope that this bill will bring justice for all students who have become victims of sexual assault by their teachers,” said Armato (D-Atlantic). “The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority.”
If enacted, New Jersey would join 10 other states – Alabama, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington – that have laws criminalizing sex between school employees and students over the age of 18.
The measure now heads to the Senate for further consideration.