BOSTON (SHNS) – In 2004, Dudley police investigated what they believed to be a crime: a sexual relationship between a 30-year-old English teacher and a 16-year-old boy who was her student.
It was not a crime, Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar told the Legislature’s Education Committee on Tuesday.
Since 2005, Wojnar said he has been advocating for a new law to bar adults in authority from sexual relationships with teenagers and he has been perplexed about why lawmakers have not put a statute on the books.
“Nobody’s explained why,” Wojnar told the News Service.
Salem Sen. Joan Lovely this session filed an omnibus bill (S 295) that specifically outlaws teachers and other school employees from sexually abusing high school students. Offenders could be punished with up to five years of imprisonment under the bill.
Lovely said she is unsure why the bill has not moved over the years, but she has a theory.
“I think this is such an uncomfortable subject that people don’t want to talk about it,” the senator told the News Service.
Lawmakers have in recent years responded legislatively to uncomfortable subjects, outlawing so-called up-skirt photography, requiring longer preservation of rape kit evidence and, after many years of debate, increasing the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. On Thursday, the Senate plans to debate a bill about sexual education in schools.
Lovely said that at the age of 6 she herself was sexually abused by an uncle that her mother had accepted into their household, and she opened up to her colleagues about that during discussions about the statute of limitations bill a few years ago.
“I just know that there is trauma that is related to sexual abuse and some people channel that trauma into positives and some people have addiction issues and relationship issues,” said Lovely.
While the relationship between the teacher and student that Dudley police investigated was not itself illegal, the woman pled guilty to a related charge of disseminating harmful material to a minor, according to Wojnar. He told the committee the woman received two years of probation and surrendered her teaching license, but she was not required to register as a sex offender.
The legislation requires schools and youth organizations to ensure their employees are trained in recognizing sexually offending behavior in adults and noticing cues that indicate a child has been victimized. Under the bill, organizations would be directed to instruct children and youths to recognize and report “boundary-violating” behaviors, according to a summary.
Lovely said signs that a child is being abused can include the youngster not wanting to be around a particular person, knowledge of sexual activities beyond their years, and in physical manifestations such as headaches or stomachaches.
The bill also requires teachers and others who work with children to disclose whether they have been the subject of a sex abuse investigation and prohibits schools from making an agreement that would suppress information related to suspected sexual abuse.