TRENTON — A bill that would criminalize sexual relationships between teachers and students between 18 and 20 years old advanced in the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday in a unanimous vote. The bill would make sex between a school employee with disciplinary or supervisory authority over that student punishable as sexual assault. The bill is sponsored by Assemblymen Raj Mujherji (D-33) and Reed Gusciora (D-15).
Committee chair John McKeon (D-27) argued that the bill would prevent abuse for students who have reached the age of majority, including those with learning disabilities who have been mainstreamed into a public school. Existing statutes apply only to teachers, but the bill that cleared the committee would expand the law to apply to any school employee.
“I know the civil libertarians out there might be raising some questions as to an eighteen-year-old’s ability to consent,” McKeon said before the vote. “This doesn’t take away their ability to consent, this takes away, really, the right of someone who is a supervisor of theirs to have that kind of relationship with them until such a time as they’re off that campus.”
Mukherji pointed to the breakdown of personal barriers between teachers and students because of the internet in his statement after the committee vote.
“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,” Mukherji wrote. “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.”
Gusciora echoed McKeon’s argument that the law would prevent abuse, not infringe on the rights of young adults.
“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,” Gusciora wrote. “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.”