Maryland prosecutors push for better protections for child sex abuse victims

Some of Maryland’s top prosecutors came together to support a number of bills that they believe would better protect children from sexual abuse and help respond to children who may become victims of human trafficking.

During a news conference Tuesday, the state’s attorneys from Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties pushed for a bicameral bill which would, in their opinion, close a loophole that exists in the prosecution of individuals in “positions of authority” accused of sexually abusing a child.

“Sadly, most of the cases that we see, the individual who takes advantage of the 16 and 17-year-old individuals is substantially older, and many instances decades older, than the 16 or 17-year-old,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said.

The law would expand the definition of a “person in position of authority” into include someone outside of a school — such as a volunteer, a camp counselor, or a music teacher — accused of sexually abusing a minor they have authority over, as long as the person being prosecuted is 21 or older.

McCarthy said there have been situations where individuals wait for a child, whom they have authority over, to turn the age of 16 in order to begin a sexual relationship with them.

The age of consent in Maryland is 16 years old.

“They know precisely what they’re doing,” McCarthy said. “It’s grooming.”

McCarthy said the issue in prosecuting these cases is that there is a care and custody issue currently standing in the way of prosecuting some accused abusers. Right now, McCarthy said schoolteachers can be charged in these situations because they clearly have custody of children at a school. However, he cited a situation in which a music teacher was engaging in sexual activity with a girl at a home, but since her father was waiting in a nearby room, prosecutors could not show the music teacher had clear custody of the child at the time.

According to prosecutors, some lawmakers expressed concerns about hypothetical situations involving, for instance, a 21-year-old teaching assistant and a 17-year-old student, where the age gap is enough to trigger the charges in the proposed bill but both are students.

“I will tell you. I’ve been doing this for 23 years. I have never seen that scenario play out. We don’t prosecute those cases,” said Debbie Feinstein, Chief of the Special Victims Unit for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.

While a version of the bill has passed through the House, McCarthy said the bill along with a similar Senate version needs “help” moving through the Senate.

The prosecutors also voiced support for a pair of similar bills which would grant victims of child trafficking immunity from prosecution for a list of “qualifying offenses” that happened while they were the victims of trafficking. Some of those offenses include sex, drugs, burglary and fraud crimes, among others.

“We should not be seeking to prosecute children who have been abused, but rather to assist them in living full and complete lives,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy.

The bill would also ensure victims are referred to proper services through the Regional Navigator Program, which helps trafficking victims 24 and under get the services they need.

A house and Senate version of the so-called “Safe Harbor” bill still needs to move through the Senate.

If the bill makes it through the General Assembly and gets the governor’s signature, it would take effect Oct. 1.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up