Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is introducing legislation that would levy criminal charges on a school official who engages in a sexual act with a student, regardless of whether the student is 18 or older, a move prompted by several recent reports of high school teachers who avoided legal charges because the student they were involved with was 18.
“Obviously there’s a loophole that exists in current law. We have far more high school students that are 18 or 19 years old now than we used to and these reports are becoming far too commonplace,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Teachers need to realize that regardless of whether a student consents, they are still abusing their authority and the trust placed in them. It’s inappropriate and we need to close this loophole to make that message clear.”
Gusciora had been considering the legislation for some time, but was hastened by the latest report of a Hamilton high school teacher alleged to have a continued relationship with a senior student who was 18, frustrating the students’ parents because they have no legal recourse.
Currently, New Jersey does not have any law on the books prohibiting teachers from engaging in sexual acts with students who are 18 years or older. Under current law, if the student is under 16, a teacher or supervisor can be charged with aggravated sexual assault, which is a first degree crime carrying a term of imprisonment of 10-20 years. If the student is 16 or 17, a teacher or supervisor can be charged with sexual assault, which is a second degree crime, punishable by 5-10 years in jail.
Gusciora’s proposed legislation would extend the crime of second degree sexual assault to any teacher or supervisor who engages in a sexual act with a student 16 – 21 years of age.
Gusciora noted that neighboring Pennsylvania enacted a law in 2011 making it a felony for school employees to have sexual relationships with students regardless of their age.