Bipartisan push for legislation that would criminalize sex with underage students

State Senators Frank Lombardi (D-Cranston) and Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield) outline their support for legislation to criminalize sex with underage students at a State House news conference May 16, 2022. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By WPRO News

With just weeks remaining in the legislative session, lawmakers Monday said they are in a race to pass bills that would criminalize sexual relations between adults and underage teenagers.

Republican state Senator Jessica de la Cruz of North Smithfield said she has enlisted support from Democrat lawmakers for the legislation.

“When it comes to children under the age of 18, the proposed law would make it unambiguous,” she said at a State House news conference on Monday. “It would say that minors cannot give consent to sexual conduct with a teacher or a person in a position of authority, and any such relationship would be expressly forbidden.”

“Consent is irrelevant,” de la Cruz said. “It is ludicrous to think that a child has the ability to consent to a person in a position of authority.”

“If we do nothing else as legislators, in this wonderful body, this wonderful building, we must protect our children,” said Senator Frank Lombardi, (D-Cranston).

Several parents were present to offer their support, including Nicole Solas, a South Kingstown mother who has led a campaign to press local school boards to open to public scrutiny, their records detailing instances of school personnel disciplined or removed for improper relations with students.

“A teacher sexually touching a 14-year old child is sexual assault,” Solas said. “But in Rhode Island we diminish that sexual assault to sexual harassment. Instead of a prosecutor prosecuting charges, a school administrator does a few interviews at school. That’s a joke,” she said.

A Senate committee has heard the bill, which has been held for further study, while a House version was introduced just last week, and has not yet had a committee hearing, although the lawmakers said they hope there will be action before the current legislative session ends, often in late June or early July.