Last updated: June 9, 2016
Teachers, Coaches & Principals – Sex Abuse of Students
Over the past few years, there has been an alarming number of reports across the country of teachers who begin “relationships” with older high school students. Pennsylvania is no exception. In the past 2-3 years, there have been several teacher-student school sex abuse scandals. More recently, a grand jury in Allegheny County, PA issued a special report detailing an alleged history of sex abuse by multiple teachers at Plum Senior High School in Pittsburgh. According to the report, school administrators failed to take appropriate action after learning about “rumors” of teachers having sex with students. Some of the alleged abuse occurred in 2014, several years after the Penn State Sandusky scandal broke and years after schools across Pennsylvania implemented strict policies relating to reports of teachers abusing or assaulting students.
The reality is that these types of “relationships” are of course different than sexual abuse of a young child, but still constitute sexual abuse. That is because of the special position of authority held by educators such as teachers, coaches, etc. This position of authority creates a natural imbalance between the sexual abuser/educator and student. That imbalance precludes the student’s consent or creates a situation in which the student cannot give true consent to the relationship.
In addition, a student, especially an older student, may initially want to engage in the sexual contact. This is absolutely normal. Children, especially older children are naturally curious about their sexuality, and explains why a student may seem to agree to sexual contact with an educator. However, over time the student may feel coerced and eventually feel shame and guilt. Because of the teacher-student relationship and fear of being exposed, the student continues in the “relationship.” In some instances, the teacher may issue threats, both direct and indirect, to continue the contact. In fact, many students who thought they were engaging in “adult” sexual relationships with teachers, coaches or principals indicate that when it comes time to break up or move on, they fear getting caught or getting bad grades from the teacher.
Criminal Liability – The Crime of Institutional Sex Assault in Pennsylvania
In 2011, the Pennsylvania legislature amended sexual abuse law in PA to specifically criminalize cases in which educators engage in sexual conduct with students. The key in these school sex abuse cases is the student-teacher relationship. The law recognizes that teachers hold a position of power over students and that this power creates an a situation where the student and teacher are simply not on equal footing.
Therefore, in Pennsylvania, a teacher who engages in sexual contact with a student can be found guilty of the crime of institutional sex abuse. Under 18 Pa. C.S. § 3124.2, Institutional sexual assault, high school teachers who engage in sexual contact with students are committing a third degree felony and face a 7 year prison sentence and fines up to $15,000.
Civil Liability – Lawsuits for School Abuse by Teachers in Pennsylvania
In addition to criminal liability, a teacher, coach or other school employee may face being sued by the student in a subsequent sex abuse lawsuit. In addition, the school itself may also face liability as a co-defendant. Under Pennsylvania law, victims of abuse have civil legal rights to seek financial compensation for the abuse. Claims may be made for pain and suffering and any psychological treatment necessitated by the abuse. Oftentimes, verdicts or settlements in school sex abuse lawsuits are well into the 6 figures.
In some instances, the perpetrator and school may be court ordered to pay punitive damages. This is in addition to any financial award for pain and suffering. Punitive damages awards are designed to punish a party for particularly wrongful conduct. Sex abuse of a minor in a school setting certainly meets that standard.
For a free case review, please call our teacher and school sex abuse lawyers at Click To Call. Firm founder, Brian Kent, is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who now represents victims of sexual abuse in the civil courts. Mr. Kent
DISCLAIMER: Because each case is unique, discussion of prior outcomes and settlements in past cases is no guarantee of a similar outcome in current or future cases. This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. It is crucial to speak to a qualified lawyer prior to making any decision about your case. The use of the contact forms on this website does not establish any attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through the contact forms.
18 Pa. C.S. § 3124.2 Institutional sexual assault. (current as of June 9, 2016)
(a) General rule.–Except as provided under subsection (a.1) and in sections 3121 (relating to rape), 3122.1 (relating to statutory sexual assault), 3123 (relating to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse), 3124.1 (relating to sexual assault) and 3125 (relating to aggravated indecent assault), a person who is an employee or agent of the Department of Corrections or a county correctional authority, youth development center, youth forestry camp, State or county juvenile detention facility, other licensed residential facility serving children and youth, or mental health or mental retardation facility or institution commits a felony of the third degree when that person engages in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with an inmate, detainee, patient or resident.
(a.1) Institutional sexual assault of a minor.–A person who is an employee or agent of the Department of Corrections or a county correctional authority, youth development center, youth forestry camp, State or county juvenile detention facility, other licensed residential facility serving children and youth or mental health or mental retardation facility or institution commits a felony of the third degree when that person engages in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with an inmate, detainee, patient or resident who is under 18 years of age.
(1) Except as provided in sections 3121, 3122.1, 3123, 3124.1 and 3125, a person who is a volunteer or an employee of a school or any other person who has direct contact with a student at a school commits a felony of the third degree when he engages in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with a student of the school.
(2) As used in this subsection, the following terms shall have the meanings given to them in this paragraph:
(i) “Direct contact.” Care, supervision, guidance or control.
(i) A teacher, a supervisor, a supervising principal, a principal, an assistant principal, a vice principal, a director of vocational education, a dental hygienist, a visiting teacher, a home and school visitor, a school counselor, a child nutrition program specialist, a school librarian, a school secretary the selection of whom is on the basis of merit as determined by eligibility lists, a school nurse, a substitute teacher, a janitor, a cafeteria worker, a bus driver, a teacher aide and any other employee who has direct contact with school students.
(ii) An independent contractor who has a contract with a school for the purpose of performing a service for the school, a coach, an athletic trainer, a coach hired as an independent contractor by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association or an athletic trainer hired as an independent contractor by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
(B) The term does not include:
(i) A student employed at the school.
(ii) An independent contractor or any employee of an independent contractor who has no direct contact with school students.
(iii) “School.” A public or private school, intermediate unit or area vocational-technical school.
(iv) “Volunteer.” The term does not include a school student.
(a.3) Child care.–Except as provided in sections 3121, 3122.1, 3123, 3124.1 and 3125, a person who is a volunteer or an employee of a center for children commits a felony of the third degree when he engages in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with a child who is receiving services at the center.
[Section (b) Definitions intentionally omitted]