New Hampshire lawmakers are working to outlaw sexual relationships between teachers and students amid a criminal case that’s highlighting how loopholes in the law allow school employees to prey on teens.
The New Hampshire House and Senate last week approved competing bills to address a loophole that allowed Concord High School teacher Primo Leung to repeatedly abuse teens through his role as a teacher and camp counselor.
Leung was charged last year with sexually assaulting a middle school student at a summer camp in 2015 and 2016, and has pleaded not guilty. He was also reportedly caught kissing an 18-year-old student in Concord in 2018 but school officials did not report the conduct to police because of the student’s age, according to the Associated Press.
In New Hampshire and other states, the age of consent is 16, unless the teen is coerced in some way.
In many other states, it’s illegal for teachers or adults in a position of authority to engage in sexual relationships with students, regardless of their age or coercion.
The House version of the New Hampshire legislation would outlaw any sexual relationship between school employees and students under the age of 18. It would do the same for other adults who look after students outside of school, such as church leaders, coaches, counselors and others.
“The goal of the bill is to close a perceived loophole,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Tim Lang told InDepthNH.org. “The goal is unambiguous… you cannot have sex with any student, period.”
The version that passed the New Hampshire Senate targets adults at schools only, specifically employees, contractors, coaches and volunteers, the AP reports.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is advocating for the House version because of the broader scope.
“Adults in New Hampshire, regardless of their employment status or job description, must be held accountable and not be allowed to manipulate their position of authority over the youth in their care,” coalition spokeswoman Amanda Grady Sexton said.
Democrat Sen. Martha Hennessey, sponsor of the Senate version, was among lawmakers who voted down an amendment to transform her bill into the House version. She contends the broader protections for students from folks outside the school system poses problems with technicalities in the law.
“The sexual assault chapter, RSA 632:A, is a complex, intricate framework with varying definitions, a range of prohibited conduct by certain actors and tiered levels of punishment for different conduct,” Hennessey said during debate.
“In other words, amending one part of the statute will likely affect likely affect other intertwined sections.”
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday that he’d sign any of the legislation that makes it to his desk.