It is legal under current law for someone in a position of authority – such as a school teacher, coach, volunteer, etc. – to have sex with a high school student who is age 18. Demuth’s bill (H.F. 491) raises the age of consent from 18 to 21 if the victim is a secondary student and the perpetrator is a school employee or contractor and in a position of authority over the student.
“This is one of those issues that somehow has slid under the radar for far too long,” said Demuth, a first-year lawmaker who served 11 years on the ROCORI School Board. “It’s unbelievable that this isn’t already on the books. While we think the number of cases this bill would address is rather low, there have been instances where prosecutors have looked at a case but ultimately were unable to press charges because of this loophole.”
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom testified in support of the bill during the hearing. He indicated two instances involving sexual relationships between students and people in positions of authority were reported in recent years. Neither case was punishable by law.
“Sexual contact between a teacher and student may be against a school’s policy, but right now it’s not illegal and that’s what I’m looking to change,” Demuth said. “Our schools are supposed to be safe places for our children to grow and learn. It is appalling to think they could be taken advantage of by an authority figure and there’s no legal recourse available. This isn’t a partisan subject, it’s a common-sense safety issue that’s about doing what’s right to protect our children.”
Bills similar to Demuth’s were introduced as recently as during the last biennium, but those did not reach enactment. On a voice vote, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee on Wednesday referred the bill to Ways and Means Committee, keeping the bill viable for passage and enactment this session.
Demuth said the bill may be amended before its stop in Ways and Means. For instance, additional language to differentiate between traditional college students older than age 18 and high school students the same age taking college courses may be added.