California Lawmakers Strengthen Bill to Protect Sexually Abused Students

In a criminal case, an individual must be at least 18 years old to be able to give legal consent to sex.  But last year in a civil case, a defense attorney for Los Angeles Unified School District argued that a 14-year-old girl could give consent to sex with a 28-year-old teacher. The 2014 case involved Elkis Hermida, a 28-year-old  middle school math teacher who in 2010 began a six month sexual relationship with a female student.  Hermida was criminally convicted of lewd acts against a child and in July 2011, sentenced to three years in state prison.  Following the criminal case, the victim’s family filed a civil lawsuit against LAUSD. During the three week trial, lawyers for the school district argued that the victim knew what she was doing and was to blame for the situation, not the district.

California is one of a handful of states where age of consent laws in criminal cases are different than in civil cases. In other words, a child can be a victim in a criminal case, but found at fault in a civil case, for the same crime.

This new bill, SB 14, would change that. SB 14 would prevent “an adult in a position of authority, like a teacher, who sexually abuses a child from claiming the child ‘consented’ as a defense.”  The bill, authored by Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, passed by the Assembly on a 75-0 vote. It will now go to Governor Jerry Brown.  On Monday, Governor Brown also signed a bill that prohibits school districts from purging a teacher’s personnel file of credible complaints about, substantiated investigations into or discipline for egregious misconduct, including sexual abuse of students.