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MA law loophole leaves teens vulnerable to sex offenders – Boston News, Weather, Sports

BOSTON (WHDH) — A loophole in the state of Massachusetts prevents prosecutors from taking action against teachers, coaches and other adults in positions of authority who sexually exploit teenagers in their care.

Survivors like Liz O’Neil say it happens more often than you might think.

“Predators like the man who abused me hide in plain sight,” O’Neil said, reading from a victim’s testimony she filed with the Massachusetts legislature months ago.

It started when O’Neil was 16. She confided in a teacher who began offering her rides from home from school. She says those trips grew into gifts of money and jewelry, and eventually a full-blown sexual relationship.

“I absolutely believe I was 100 percent abused,” she told 7News. “I had the feeling that he completely exploited his position.”

Jeniece McClary shares this feeling. She came from a single parent home and craved a father figure. In high school, she found this man in a leader at her church.

McClary wanted to please him, even if she says his intention had become sexual.

“He used God many times. We will ask God to forgive us, we will pray if something doesn’t feel right,” she explained. “You start to believe that everything they say is true… he wouldn’t lead me in the wrong direction even if it didn’t feel right.”

Both women, now adults with children of their own, say it took years to come to terms with their abuse. But if they had attempted to report it at the time, it is unlikely the men would have been criminally charged.

“It happens a lot more often than people realize,” said Kevin Hayden, Suffolk County District Attorney.

The age for sexual consent in Massachusetts is 16, meaning the men who molested O’Neil and McClary could not be prosecuted under the law. It’s a devastating loophole that proponents like Hayden are trying to fill.

“So if you have a teacher who in any way manipulates a 16-year-old student into having a sexual relationship, that adult can’t be charged?” asked 7’s Victoria Price.

“That’s right,” Hayden said. As a father of teenagers, he knows how impressive children of this age can be.

“Although you could legally consent because you are 16, there is no way you can consent if your consent is immediately overridden because the person you are involved with in this activity is someone in a position of trust.”

At least 14 other states where the age of consent is under 18 have criminalized sex between teens and adults who hold positions of trust or authority.

Until Massachusetts does, survivors like O’Neil and McClary feel predators are protected by the law.

“We should all be aware that a 16, 17, 18 year old doesn’t have the means or the ability to consent to a sexual relationship with their teacher,” O’Neil said. “As simple as that.”

“There are no consequences. If they get away with it one, two, three times, they have no reason to stop,” McClary added. “And they won’t do it until someone holds them accountable.”

have state legislatures introduced legislation to close this legal loophole. However, the bill was presented at this session, so it will have to be presented again next year.

For more information on resources for victims or loved ones who have been victims of child abuse, sexual abuse, and/or abuse of power, visit Counseling center for children of Suffolk County and the Suffolk DA’s office.

(Copyright (c) 2022 Sunbeam Television. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)

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https://whdh.com/news/legal-loophole-in-ma-leaves-teens-vulnerable-to-sexual-predators/ MA law loophole leaves teens vulnerable to sex offenders – Boston News, Weather, Sports

Nate Jones

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