Bill boosting penalties for sex offenses by coaches poised to become law

A bill creating a new offense for athletic coaches, scouting or other youth program leaders is one signature away from becoming law.

The state House on Monday gave final approval to the bill (191-4) and sent it to Gov. Corbett, whose office says he will sign it.

The bill was introduced in a flood of child protection of legislation put forth in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse  scandal.

This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery), comes after the conviction of William “Billy” Gordon, a private volleyball coach and personal trainer from Montgomery County, for having an unlawful sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he coached and mentored.

The bill would create the offense of “sexual assault by a sports official,” which would carry a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

 

It would apply to most instances where a youth leader has sex or indecent contact with a child under 18 who is participating in his or her program.

Vereb said the bill would toughen the penalties on those whp use their unique positions of influence or authority over children to force them into sexual activity.

 

"We want to send a clear signal to those coaches who would prey on youth athletes that their acts will be aggressively punished," Vereb said in a statement.

"We also want to provide parents with a measure of security in knowing that laws are on the books aimed at protecting their kids when they participate in sports."

The bill covers coaches, athletic trainers, team attendants and referees, as well as anyone in other non-profits who is charged with the direct care, supervision, guidance or control of children.

Vereb’s House Bill 112 would establish specific guidelines to punish athletic coaches, trainers or other sports officials who have sex with a child-athlete who is under 18 years old. The bill would create the offense of “sexual assault by a sports official,” which would carry a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

The bill comes after the conviction of William “Billy” Gordon, a private volleyball coach and personal trainer from Montgomery County, for having an unlawful sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he coached and mentored.

State law prohibits sexual misconduct against children, but  there is no specific provision addressing sexual assault by a coach, trainer or other sports official, who often gain the trust of children through their positions.

Under current law, a sports official could engage in a sexual relationship with an athlete who is above the age of consent, which is age 16 in Pennsylvania, and law enforcement would be limited in their options to aggressively prosecute the official, Vereb said.

“The cases of Billy Gordon in our area and Jerry Sandusky in State College opened a lot of eyes to the fact that coaches can take advantage of their positions to gain and abuse the trust of our children,” Vereb said.

The state Senate last week amended the bill to include a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 15 years for criminals convicted of third-degree murder of a child under 13 years old.


 

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