Teachers shouldn't be having sex with students no matter how old the students might be.
While laws already are on the books in South Carolina outlawing sex between teachers and students who are minors, the act is not illegal if students have reached the legal age of consent -- 16. A state House Judiciary panel recently gave key approval to a bill that would erase that distinction, making any sex between teachers and students a crime.
Too many instances have occurred in state schools in which teachers have not been charged with sex crimes because the students with whom they had sex were old enough to consent. Under the proposed law, any high school employee or volunteer -- no matter what their title -- who has sex with a student age 16 to 21 could be charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The panel set the age limit at 21 to include special education students.
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This proposal is timely. A nationwide Associated Press investigation published in October found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 to 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Ninety nine of those cases occurred in South Carolina.
The report sparked state Education Superintendent Jim Rex to contact state Attorney General Henry McMaster asking for ideas to take to the Legislature. Lawmakers clearly need to close this insidious loophole.
The vast majority of teachers in the state would never dream of having sexual contact with a student. Schools and school grounds are among the safest places a child can be.
But, as the AP study proves, there are predators out there. While laws already are in place to protect young children, the state needs a law that covers all students.
Even if a student is of consenting age, a teacher is a in a position of authority and power, and sex between teacher and student constitutes abuse. We hope this proposal has the full support of the Legislature.