At the end of 2011, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a bill that significantly strengthens the laws prohibiting sexual contact between teachers and students 16-years-old or older in schools.
The law, which became effective on Feb. 21, 2012, makes the former misdemeanor penalty a felony sex crime, carrying up to a seven-year sentence. Anyone convicted of this offense would also have to register as a sex offender.
Institutional Sexual Assault
The offense is entitled “institutional sexual assault” in the statutes, and it prohibits any volunteer or employee who has direct contact with a student at a school and engages in “sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with a student of the school.”
The definition of employee is broad, and includes principals, teachers, school nurses, counselors, school librarians, coaches, janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and virtually any employee who comes in contact with students.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli discussed the new law during a press conference noted that his office has seen more of these cases recently.
An article on WFMC.com pointed out the case of an Allentown teacher who had been sentenced to up to five years for having sex with a 17-year old boy. In Northampton County, another teacher is awaiting trial, also for having sex with a 17-year-old boy.
A story from the Montgomery News listed eight cases of teacher having sexual relations or indecent contact with students. These cases typically involved consensual sexual relations, and the legislature made clear with this new law that students cannot consent to sex with a teacher or coach.
In the most publicized case in recent memory, Jerry Sandusky stands accused of sexually assaulting multiple students during his time as a coach. While somewhat different from the situation with a K-12 teacher, the Sandusky case created a maelstrom that pulled Penn State’s president, athletic director and Joe Paterno down.
Much of the criticism of the Penn State’s handling of the case was the perceived failure of the institution to properly respond to the allegations of abuse.
The previous law did not include teachers, coaches and youth organization instructors. Prosecutors had pushed for stronger penalties than “corruption of youth” that was only a misdemeanor. The felony charge and sex offender registration mean any teacher or school employee charged will face much more severe penalties.