Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed into law a bill that blocks adults sued in California civil court by minors over sexual assault allegations from using the defense that the child consented to the sexual contact.
The legislation was in response to a case last year in which the Los Angeles Unified School District avoided penalties in a civil suit involving a 14-year-old student who said she was sexually assaulted by a 28-year-old teacher.
The teacher at Edison Middle School was sentenced to three years in prison in a criminal case. But in the civil suit, a jury found in the school district's favor, partly based on the defense argument that the student allegedly consented to sexual activities with her teacher.
While criminal law is clear that minors cannot consent to sexual acts, civil law is less definitive, and judges have ruled in civil cases that minors gave consent, according to Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).
"California is taking a decisive step today to close a loophole in the law that allows defendants in civil suits to claim that a child consented to sex," Lara said in a statement. "Now, sexual predators will no longer be off the hook for child abuse and negligence because of a nuance in law."
The bill, SB 14, was one of 18 signed Thursday by the governor. Brown also signed a measure that allows family members to be eligible for compensation from the state as crime victims when a crime is committed against them by a minor.
The Los Angeles County district attorney supported the bill by Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) because prosecutors say ambiguities in the law mean they have had difficulty getting restitution for some victims because the offender is not an adult.