Bill to protect young Utah students from "predatory professors", says sponsor

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SALT LAKE CITY – A bill that adds university professors and teaching assistants to public and private colleges and universities to enunciate the right as adults in a position of trust is a additional measure to protect young students from "predatory teachers", said the project's sponsor to the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

"Students have the right to be safe in all settings, certainly from kindergarten to grade 12. But more and more graduates are graduates," said Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.

About 3% of all students at the national level finish their studies earlier and enter higher education under 18 years of age.

Citing a 2014 report on government accountability, Ivory said, "1 in 10 students experience sexual misconduct in adults."

While the Utah law includes educators, counselors and coaches from Kindergarten to Grade 12 occupying a particular position of trust towards minors, the law does not include teachers. University, instructors and teaching assistants who also maintain relationships with students under 18 years of age.

HB287 would add university professors and teaching assistants to the law defining adults in a particular position of trust as an aggravating factor in cases of sexual abuse on a child. Aggravating factors can lead to better criminal penalties.

"So now we have younger and younger students who are going to university and our policies do not reflect that," said Ivory.

HB287 "adds in this situation," he said.

In Utah, about 20,000 students under the age of 18 are entering universities, Ivory said.

"This provides them with better protection, namely, that they have a safe environment against sexual assault in academia," he said.

Representative Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, thanked Ivory for passing the law.

"It is unfortunate that we have to take into account these elements, but I appreciate the work you have done.I think it's important to define these aggravating factors because there are positions of particular trust that these people occupy, especially when you are thinking about sending young and younger people to higher education, "Waldrip said.

Ivory said that if one were looking for the terms teacher and sexual abuse, there would be 1.2 million hits. "The stories are horrible," he said.

In order for people to achieve the desired "life, livelihood and happiness", it is increasingly necessary to go through an academic environment. To think that, unfortunately, in our world, we are in an environment where you have to provide more and more protections. We have, frankly, predatory teachers. I do not mean it will be a wide net, but 1 in 10 … it's a serious situation, "Ivory said.

The committee unanimously supported the bill. HB287 moves to the plenary of the Chamber for consideration.

Marjorie Cortez