A Massachusetts state bill that would outlaw sex between teachers and students 19 years of age and younger, and which is strongly supported by the police, has yet to be endorsed by the state teachers’ union.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has 110,000 member, told Fox News it is reviewing the measure, which was introduced six months ago.
"The Massachusetts Teachers Association’s priority is always to protect students and the educational environment," the union said in a statement to Fox News. "While we are still examining the many components of this proposed legislation, we understand that its intent is to help ensure that our schools are nurturing places for students to learn and grow."
The union's stance comes amid a spate of cases of teachers having sex with students around the nation. While not a new phenomenon, lawmakers in Massachusetts say a strong signal from teachers unions that such behavior is nott condoned is appropriate.
"If you know you could be charged with a crime, it could be a deterrent."
Besides criminalizing teacher-student sex, the bill outlaws sexual relations between a student and other adults employed by a school district, whether they are a salaried, a volunteer or work on a contract basis. It would also cover independent schools and youth organizations. Adults found guilty of violating the law would face a maximum jail term of five years or a $10,000 fine or both.
The measure marks the latest effort in a years-long battle to criminalize sexual relations between teachers and students in the state, which considers 16 the age at which a person can give consent to sexual activity.
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem, said that getting the backing of the teachers union would significantly boost the efforts to get the law passed to protect students.
“Of course, we want their support, and we’ll continue to work for that,” the Democrat told Fox News.
Lovely said the measure, entitled the Comprehensive Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act of 2017, would add another layer to a system that already trains educators to spot child abuse and guides them about how to handle such situations.
The lawmaker said that she has been in touch with various school administrators and educator groups about the measure.
“We certainly want to work with them, and hear from all interested parties,” Lovely said.
The absence of any language outlawing sex between a teacher and a student 16 years or older, has made it difficult to take criminal action against adults in position of authority who abuse their power to engage in sexual relations with youth, said Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar told Fox News.
Wojnar, who testified before a state Joint Committee on Education on the need to pass the measure, said the bill is not an attack on teachers.
“There are bad people in every profession,” Wojnar said. “We’re not talking about the great majority of teachers who are hard-working and dedicated and care about the kids. We’re talking about the few who will betray their trust. If you know you could be charged with a crime, it could be a deterrent.”
Wojnar said he has been trying to get support for a law like this for more than a dozen years.
He recalled a 2004 investigation into a sexual relationship between a 30-year-old English teacher and a 16-year-old boy at the school and how authorities were unable to fully go after the adult, despite texts, videos and photos establishing the affair.
The police chief recounted the frustration he experienced at the time running into roadblocks because state laws did not provide the tools for prosecuting the teacher in the manner Wojnar believed was fit.
“Victims suffer greatly at the hands of these predators,” Wojnar wrote to the Senate in a recent letter. “They can be deemed as some form of outcast in their school and the community. They may be accused of lying, as some people desire to protect the teacher’s reputation, rather than that of the victim. They have the potential to suffer emotional and personal damage which may not be realized for years, if ever.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.