A former employee at Hamburg High School lost her appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court late last month. Jennifer Merklinger, a teacher’s aide at the high school in Berks County, Pennsylvania, admitted to repeatedly having sex with a student and was convicted of institutional sexual assault in November 2014. She was sentenced to 5 years of probation and must register as a sex offender.
After her conviction, she appealed to the state superior court arguing that her conviction for institutional sexual assault was unconstitutional.
Merklinger, who was 40 years old at the time, had sex with an 18 year old male student at the school from December 2013 to January 2014 off school grounds.
In her appeal, the former teacher’s aide argued that the institutional sexual assault law was “unconstitutionally vague as it applied to women” because the law used the pronoun “he” when describing prohibited sex acts between school officials and students. In addition, the law was also “unconstitutionally broad” because it criminalized sex between consenting adults in her case.
The court found that the use of “he” in the law applied to both females and males. The court further provided that the law intended to prohibit sexual contact between school employees and students and the age of the students engaging in sexual acts in a school setting is considered to be legally irrelevant.
The court went on to say in its opinion, “[i]n a school setting, it is safe to assume that sexual contact between school employees, including teacher aides, and students ‘is rife with the possibility of coercion, both subtle and overt,’ given the extensive power school employees exercise over students.”
What the court said in its opinion is one of the main reasons students are vulnerable targets for predators. The fact is – a teacher or teacher’s aide automatically holds a position of power over their students. Students are taught to trust their teachers. Regardless of their age, student who are sexually abused by a person in a position of power often suffer mental and emotional ramifications. Moreover, some of these effects continue well into their adulthood. Students may feel conflicted about the sexual abuse. Though a student may feel that the sexual relationship with a teacher is wrong, they also trust the teacher because that is what they are supposed to do.
Students who are sexually abused by their teachers or other employees at school have legal rights in both criminal and civil courts. To learn about the rights of victims of sex abuse in Philadelphia, visit our PA crime victims’ legal library.
About Our School Sexual Assault Law Practice
Laffey, Bucci & Kent, a Philadelphia personal injury law firm, focuses on crime victim injury cases, such as school sexual assaults. Mr. Kent, a former sex crimes unit prosecutor and now a Philadelphia, PA sex abuse lawyer, has crime victims’ best interests in mind and will fight for his clients against sexual predators and institutions which harbored them.
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*Source: http://www.pennlive.com (Female teacher aide’s student-sex conviction wasn’t unconstitutional, court rules)
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