Bill would criminalize consensual sex between teachers and teens
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers are debating a bill that would make it a crime for a teacher to have consensual sexual contact with a 16- or 17-year-old.
Hawaii's age of consent is 16, but under House Bill 1044, an adult in a position of power who engages in sexual contact with a 16- or 17-year-old would face fourth-degree sex assault charges.
The bill was before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and some expressed concern with the measure as written.
The city Prosecutor's Office supports the intent of the bill, but has concerns about the wording and scope of the measure.
The state public defender testified against the bill.
"The way it's worded right now, we believe it casts far too wide a net that will result in unintended prosecutions because these terms such as trust, power, authority, supervision are so vague," said Jack Tonaki, state public defender.
State Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill is meant to close what he characterized as a loophole in the law.
"I thought that people in authority would be held to a higher legal standard, but when we researched it, it was clear that it was not a crime," Rhoads said.
The measure grew out of an incident last year at Kalaheo High School, in which a teacher pleaded no contest to harassment.
Under Hawaii law, teacher Marc Murdock's crime wasn't his consensual sex with a 17-year-old female student, but his unwanted and repeated phone calls, text messages and emails afterwards.
On the Big Island, a female teacher at Waiakea High School allegedly had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old male student in 2014.
The DOE placed the two educators on leave to investigate. The department prohibits employees or volunteers from engaging in any romantic, sexual, or other inappropriate relations with a student.
Both of the teachers no longer work for the department, according to DOE officials.
Rhoads said a sexual encounter with a teacher can "alter the course of a young person's life pretty substantially, and I think it's fair to make it a criminal penalty."
He added that most other stats have a similar statute on the books. There are exceptions if the adult is legally married to the minor, or if the age difference is less than five years.
Hawaii News Now contacted the Hawaii State Teachers Association to find out if teachers union plans to take a position on the bill, but did not receive a response.
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