An investigative report puts a spotlight on loopholes in Vermont’s sex abuse laws.
Now lawmakers are grappling with how to close them.
The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team recently published a report exposing loopholes in New England’s sex abuse laws.
“I’m very proud Vermont had fewer loopholes than many of the other New England states, but we do have some,” said Dick Sears, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Thursday, exactly one month after the Globe’s story was printed, lawmakers sat down to discuss those loopholes outlined in the report.
“There’s concern that there just isn’t, aren’t strong enough laws in place that can help prevent abuse,” said reporter Todd Wallack, member of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team.
Citing child welfare and victim advocates, the Globe’s reporters noted, “The problem is that many sexual abuse and privacy laws weren’t written specifically to deal with misconduct by educators.”
Wallack, one of the authors of the investigative report, said he and his team found outdated sex abuse laws across the region.
“In Vermont it’s legal for high school teachers to have consensual sexual relationships with their students once the student reaches 18, which surprised a lot of us,” said Wallack.
Under Vermont’s sexual assault law, no person shall engage in a sexual act with a minor, meaning someone 17-years-old or younger.
“The Globe article noted that you can have an 18-year-old high school student engaged in a sexual relationship with an educator and that would not fall under this law because this is only talking about minors,” said legislative counsel Michele Childs.
The report also looks at the statutes of limitations, which puts a time limit for prosecutors to file criminal charges or civil suits against an accused abuser.
“Right now for adults we’re looking at statute of limitation of six years, and for children it’s sometimes less than three, up to 40 if it’s aggravated, but it’s really not consistent,” said Rep. Kiah Morris.
In her work as a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate, Rep. Morris said for many victims, coming forward takes time.
“It’s a challenge for emotional reasons, it’s a challenge for physical safety reasons. We would see individuals that had stories that may had gone back for several years and hadn’t really thought they could pursue or were concerned as to whether or not the courts would really take them seriously.”
Morris is co-sponsoring a bill that would eliminate statutes of limitations for sexual assault within criminal court systems.
“So if this is something that someone is ready to speak about or they express concerns of 20, 30 years down the line, there is someone that is able to hear them,” said Rep. Morris.