Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji and Reed Gusciora to criminalize sexual contact between teachers and students who are under 20 years old gained unanimous approval from an Assembly panel on Monday.
“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 and disciplinary power makes any sexual relationship inherently coercive and inappropriate. This bill will make that explicitly clear.”
“Obviously there’s a loophole that exists in current law. We have more high school students who 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.”
Under the bill (A-2101), a person would be guilty of sexual assault if they commit an act of sexual penetration with 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.
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.
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.”
The term “school” as defined under the state’s Criminal Code applies to “a public or nonpublic elementary or secondary school within this State offering education in grades K through 12, or any combination thereof, at which a child may legally fulfill compulsory school attendance requirements.” The bill, therefore, would not apply to post-high school education.
The measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.
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.