Rhode Island. Yes, that’s right, it’s not criminal right now for a teacher to have sex with a student as long as the student is at least 16-years-old. Now, there’s a bill in the state legislature that would make it a crime for any teacher to have sex with any student at any time. Believe it or not, the bill is controversial.
The bill being discussed, HB 5817, would make it a crime—3rd degree assault—for teachers and all school employees/workers to have sexual relationships with students even after they’ve turned 16.
As it currently stands, Rhode Island is one of a few states where it is perfectly legal for teachers and other school employees to have sexual relations with their students once they turn 16.
The teachers’ unions (2 of them in Rhode Island) have come out against the bill. Their arguments are pretty logical. James Parisi of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) did testify and argued that the UFT’s opposition to the bill lies mostly in the fact that it singles out school employees. He wonders why “store managers” aren’t included? Last time I checked, children aren’t, by law, in the custodial care of store managers from kindergarten through 12th grade. He wondered why clergy and the legislature weren’t also included in the bill but again, unless their role as clergy and legislators includes custodial responsibilities of children, his examples aren’t logical in this context. If the member of the clergy also teaches at a school, then yes. If the legislator is also a high school basketball coach, then yes.
Of course, this argument has been used by other groups fighting legislation they view as targeting a particular demographic, business, organization or interest group. This was the argument of the New York State Catholic Conference when they were fighting to stop legislation that changed the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases.
It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. It seems to me that if you’re going to ban behavior and limit the ban to one particular group that is unfair.