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Maryland Bill Closing Sexual Abuse Loophole Hits Snag

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A bill under consideration in Maryland would close a loophole in existing law prohibiting sexual contact between certain people of authority and minors. But lawmakers say it may have a loophole of its own.

If a part-time teacher or coach at a public or private school has sex with student aged 16 years or older, they might be fired, but they couldn't be charged with a crime under current state law. A bill currently being debated in the Maryland General Assembly would change that.

"What we're trying to do is make certain that part time teachers and volunteers are treated the same way that the full time people are," says state Sen. Jamie Raskin, author of the bill. "That's the loophole that we are targeting."

Legislators and advocates for child protection have been trying without success to pass similar legislation for more than a decade. The bill's been stonewalled by some lawmakers who say the measure may be too broad and suggest if the teacher or coach is no more than 7 years older than the student, the law shouldn't apply.

Lisa Jordan, Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, helped craft the bill. She says a compromise which includes a provision that allows the 7 year age difference may be necessary to achieve the big picture.

"A 7 year age gap, is it ideal? No," Jordan says. "But if it gets a law through that protects those kids from sexual exploitation by the older persons in authority, the cases we all agree are bad, then that is a step forward."

If the measure passes during this session, Raskin hopes to adjust the provision by possibly reducing the age gap to 4 years.

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