Harsher Felony Sentencing for Sexual Misconduct in Schools
A new act in Florida has come into effect at the beginning of the October whereby sexual misconduct by authority figures against students will be more harshly penalized than before. Originally known as the Stargel bill, named for state Senator Kelli Stargel, is now the “Sexual Misconduct with Students by Authority Figures Act.”
Purpose of the New Act
The purpose of the bill is to reclassify the felony degree of sexual offenses committed by an adult against a minor under the age of 18 and harshen the associated punishment by specifying the relationship between authority figures and their students. Authority figures can be teachers or administrative staff who either volunteer or are contracted by the school, and students are any persons under the age of 18 who are enrolled at a school.
The Tenets of the New Act
The main tenet of the bill is that the authority figure and the student must be at the same school. This is important, as the main reasoning behind the harshness of the sentence and the felony degree increase is due to the authority figure-student relationship, whereby trust is formed between the two. However, the law does not stipulate that the misconduct must occur on school premises or that it must occur during the school year or during school hours, nor does the authority figure have to have any direct responsibility over the student. With the new law coming into effect, sexual relations between a teacher and student will at least be a second-degree felony.
Statistics for Misconduct in Florida Schools
In Florida, as reported by the Sun Sentinel, between the years of 2005 and 2010, more than 175 teachers had their licenses revoked for a series of misconduct that ranged from harassing statements to sexual touching and relations with students. Though accurate statistics are hard to come by because of the secretive nature of the offense, it was tallied that in 2012, 2011, and 2010, there were roughly 1,340 complaints filed against teachers in the Florida school system. Nationwide, in a study conducted by the American Association of University Women in 2000, it showed that 4.5 million students in grades K-12 had dealt with some sort of sexual abuse by an educator, with over 3 million stating that they had experienced some type of sexual assault or touching by an educator.
Current Complaint Mechanism Insufficient
The basic legal and administrative mechanism in place was lacking and not fully addressing the misconduct by the teachers against their students. Generally, complaints could be lodged against the teachers, which would lead to an administrative investigation and, upon any misconduct findings, there would be an array of actions taken against the teacher. Any criminal sexual misconduct was handled by the police, but still cases of sexual misconduct continued. Many times, if the teacher’s misconduct was found to not be criminal, he/she could be expelled from the school system for the misdeeds, but transferred to another school system where he/she had another opportunity to be in close contact with kids.
A Criminal Defense Attorney You Can Trust
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