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Lawmaker out to ban all student-teacher sexual contact
Collins wants to plug hole in state law that allows for consent
0801Doug Collins
Doug Collins

Two recent cases involving teacher-student relationships have spurred a state legislator to clear up any question about such romantic trysts in Georgia.

State Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican, said sex between students and teachers should never happen, no matter a student’s age or if the sex is consensual. He is writing a bill to make sexual contact between teachers and students illegal in all cases.

It is not a crime in Georgia to have sexual contact with a willing person who is at least 16 years old.

State law does make it a crime for any person with supervisory or disciplinary authority over another person to have sexual contact in certain situations — when the person is "in the custody of law," "detained in or is a patient in a hospital or other institution" or the patient of a psychotherapist or counselor — even if both parties consent.

However, in cases involving sex between students and teachers, the law does not eliminate consent as a defense against a sexual assault charge.

The Supreme Court of Georgia confirmed that fact in a ruling last month concerning a Harlem High School teacher who had sex with a 16-year-old former student. In its decision, the court reversed a lower court’s decision that the 28-year-old teacher had committed a crime.

"I think most people thought, that for the most part, that was illegal to start with," Collins said. "Well, according to the Supreme Court and the way they interpreted the statute as it currently stood is that no, that the way the law read, it was not covered."

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling, issued on June 15, left open the possibility for the General Assembly to close the gap in state law.

"The General Assembly knows full well how to eliminate the consent defense when it wishes to do so," read the decision, written by then-Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears.

Collins, who is considering a run for the state Senate, said his bill, if passed, would do exactly that.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said he plans to support the legislation when it reaches the House floor.

"While the (state Supreme Court’s decision) has not yet been problematic in Hall or Dawson County, it certainly has the potential to, and I think legislation to make it clear that consent should not be a defense in these situations is appropriate and needed," Darragh said.

Just this week, the question of the legality of teacher-student sex was raised in Cobb County.

On Thursday, Christopher Richard King, a former Marietta High School teacher, was sent back to jail after he e-mailed a female student whom a judge ordered him not to contact, the Associated Press reported.

King was originally arrested May 27 at his Marietta home on a sexual assault charge for having sex with the student on multiple occasions.

King’s attorney said that since the relationship was consensual, King did nothing illegal because the student is 17.

Collins said the case just underlines the need for his bill.

"I think it’s appropriate that teachers be confined to teaching and not seducing their students," Darragh said. "Consent or not it ought to be a crime and I think that’s the way the legislation was intended in the first place."

Collins said he plans to introduce the bill when the legislature reconvenes next year.

"We’re going to drop the legislation ... to see if we can’t provide a fix that I believe that most Georgians would have agreed should have been there to start with," Collins said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.