Protect teens from coerced sex [Letter]

The age of consent for sexual activity in Maryland is 16 years old. This means that once a teenager turns 16, he or she is free to make his or her own choices about sexual partners without risk of repercussions for the partner. Those of us who are parents or caregivers of teenagers want our children to make good choices about sex and don't want them to be manipulated or coerced into having sex.

Several years ago, Maryland legislators realized that some restrictions on consent were needed to reduce the possibility of manipulation or coercion of young teenagers. Specifically, they recognized that because teachers and school staff were in a position of authority over students, such relationships were inherently coercive. The law passed to address this issue ended up being quite narrow; anyone employed full-time at a school who is at least 21 years old is considered to be in a position of authority and cannot have sexual contact with a student.

We commend those legislators who recognize that it is not just full-time school personnel who may be in a position of authority over teenagers and should not be engaging in sexual relationships with them. Several bills that have been introduced this legislative session that propose to expand the definition of person of authority to include part-time teachers, coaches and volunteers who supervise teenagers.

Unfortunately, the wording of one of those bills, HB781/SB460, is extremely problematic. While it does expand the list of people in positions of authority, it creates a huge loophole that puts our teenagers at risk. The current wording of the bill requires a seven-year age difference between adult and teenager for the law to apply. This means that it will no longer be a crime for a 21-, 22-, or 23-year-old teacher to have sex with a 16-year-old student, nor will it be a crime for a 21-to-24-year-old teacher to have sex with a 17-year-old student.

The bottom line is that it is not OK for teachers to have sexual relationships with their students, no matter what the age difference. As pediatricians and parents of teenagers, we know that students often look up to their teachers and that some teachers may take advantage of this relationship. We find it hard to believe that any legislator would find it acceptable or appropriate for a teacher to be having a sexual relationship with their own 16- or 17-year-old child.

We appreciate our legislators' efforts to expand the definition of person of authority in order to protect teenagers. We urge them to do so without adding loopholes that will harm these teens.

Drs. Wendy G. Lane and Scott Krugman, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, chair of the Child Maltreatment and Foster Care Committee and president of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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