California Assembly votes to strengthen law protecting sexually abused students

State lawmakers voted Monday to close a loophole that allowed the Los Angeles school district last year to avoid penalties in a lawsuit involving a 14-year-old student who said she was sexually assaulted by a teacher.

Legislation that now goes to the governor would bar adults sued by minors over sexual assault allegations and who are in positions of authority from using the defense the child consented to the sexual contact.

It also would prohibit those sued in such civil cases from raising a minor's sexual history as a defense.

“We are one step closer to protecting our children against abuse and inconsistencies in the legal system,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), bill's author.

Last year, a court found against a student who sued the Los Angeles Unified School District alleging negligence and asserting that she suffered emotional trauma when she was 14 and was sexually abused by her 28-year-old teacher at Edison Middle School.

District officials argued that school staff did not know about the abuse and that the teacher and eighth-grade student took steps to conceal their months-long sexual relationship.

The teacher was sentenced to three years in prison in a criminal case. But in the later civil suit, a jury found for the school district, partly because the student allegedly consented to sexual activities with her teacher.

Criminal law is clear that minors cannot consent to sexual acts. But civil law is less clear, and courts have ruled in civil cases that minors consented.

“Differences between civil and penal code when it comes to matters of consent are dangerous and threaten to let sexual predators off the hook for child abuse and negligence,” Lara said.

Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) said on the Assembly floor Monday that the bill “protects child victims of sexual predators and sexual abuse.”

The Assembly passed the bill, SB 14, on a 75-0 vote. It had already passed the state Senate.

Also Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that prohibits school districts from purging a teacher's personnel file of credible complaints about, substantiated investigations into or discipline for egregious misconduct, including sexual abuse of students.

Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach) said his bill would preserve records for administrators to detect behavioral patterns that suggest children may be at risk. It would help criminal prosecutors when new acts are alleged. The measure is AB 1452.

Meanwhile, the Assembly approved a bill that would allow a child 13 or younger who is a witness in a violent felony to testify by closed-circuit television.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced the measure in response to a Fresno case in which a child had to take the stand to testify face-to-face against a man accused of killing her father.

The proposal, SB 176, was previously approved by the Senate but goes back there for approval of minor amendments.

 

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