By Delegate Luke Clippinger
Protecting children from those in our society who would prey on their innocence has long been at the heart of my legislative efforts. I have worked extensively with policy experts, including those at MCASA, to craft legislation that will protect children from predators who use their positions to exploit children and teens in their care.
This session I will be introducing legislation to close significant gaps in Maryland law regarding persons in authority and sexual exploitation of teens. Current law addresses sexual exploitation of children in two ways: through laws prohibiting people from having sex with children under the age of 16 (or under 14 for some types of contact) and by laws on “sexual abuse of a minor”. Sexual abuse of a minor is a term of art, and prosecution requires that the perpetrator be a family member, household member, or person with care, custody, or supervision of a child. Age-based laws stop at age 16. Full-time, permanent teachers are also prohibited from having sex with their students – but they have to be full-time permanent employees of a pre-school, elementary school, or secondary school.
Together these current laws address some cases involving sexual exploitation of children, but they completely fail to protect many 16 and 17 year olds. Current law, for example, would prohibit a coach from having sex with their student during a sporting event involving the teen because the teen would be under the coach’s supervision. But current law would not
prohibit the same sexual activity during “off” hours when the child was not in the coach’s care. This is crazy. Adults with authority over 16 and 17 year olds have the authority and influence over the child all of the time.
Imagine the 16 year old Olympic hopeful, striving to make a spot on the US team: that teenager’s coach holds the dreams of the child in his or her hands. Our laws should protect the adolescent under the coach’s authority. We should not permit the coach to have sex with the child.
Imagine the coach who works part-time at a middle school and part-time at a high school. He identifies and grooms girls as middle school students but waits until they turn 16 before having sex with them. I’m not making this up – this case happened, and the State’s Attorney’s Office couldn’t prosecute the case because the teen was over 16, the coach was part-time, and the child was not in his care when he had sex with her.
We need to stop allowing this type of sexual exploitation of teens.
This was contentious issue last session. Some accused me of trying to legislate against true love. The bill I will introduce this session will not please everyone or address every situation. But it will make real progress and protect many more teens than we protect now. We need to recognize that adults in authority are in authority 24/7 and protect the 16 and 17 year old kids they work with.
Delegate Luke Clippinger is in his first term in the Maryland General Assembly where he represents District 46 in Baltimore City. A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Delegate Clippinger has distinguished himself as an emerging leader on issues related to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. His past legislative initiatives include a bill to expand the statute of limitations in child pornography cases and a bill addressing sexual assault during burglary. Delegate Clippinger received the 2013 Justice for Children Award from the Maryland Children’s Alliance. He also serves as an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County.
This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Frontline.