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October 6th, 2014

Sexual Assaults-Abuse by School Employees on School Field Trips

In the past few years, there have been literally dozens of cases of teacher-student sexual abuse or assault. The problem isn’t limited to teachers, other school employees like coaches and even principals have been embroiled in student sexual abuse or assault cases. For example, this year, a Philadelphia area pee-wee football coach was accused of sexually molesting young boys on the team.

Sexual Assault & Abuse on School Trips – Criminal Cases

Sexual abuse or assault of students also occurs on school trips such as field trips, day trips and of course, overnight trips. Recently, two teachers in northern New Jersey have been arrested and charged with sexually abusing 3 catholic high school students during an extended trip to Germany. The two teachers, aged 27 and 31 at the time, were employees of the high school. One was vice president of operations and the other was a substitute teacher and assistant coach. They acted as chaperones at the school sanctioned trip abroad and are accused of having sex with at least 3 students during the trip.*

Criminal lawyers for the teachers involved have fought the charges, arguing that NJ criminal law cannot extend to any acts outside the state. The trial court ruled against the two teachers, as did the intermediate level appeals court. These two courts decided that because the duty as chaperones originated in New Jersey, the state has the power to prosecute the teachers, under New Jersey’s criminal sexual assault law. The trial court stated:

“Rather, a person who exercises supervisory or disciplinary power in this State, or who assumes the responsibility for the care of a child in this State, shall, by continuing to exercise such conduct beyond the geographical borders of this State, be subject to criminal prosecution for sexual offenses committed against those children outside the geographical jurisdiction of this State, whether or not the intent to engage in such sexual conduct was formed in New Jersey or in another jurisdiction.”

Now, the New Jersey Supreme Court is expected to decide the issue. Last month, the court heard arguments. A decision is expected soon. It is highly likely that the court will agree with both the trial court and the intermediate appeals court and find that the state of New Jersey has the power to prosecute sexual abuse by teachers which occurs abroad.

Sexual Assault & Abuse on School Trips – Civil Cases

Another issue not involved in the criminal cases is whether the teachers and the high school could be held liable in a civil court or a civil lawsuit.

From a civil standpoint, in New Jersey, teachers or school employees who engage in sexual abuse or assault can be held liable no matter where the actions took place. That’s because the standard for jurisdiction is different in criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, jurisdiction depends on the act itself, and usually requires one of three things: the act occurred in the state, part of the act occurred in the state, or the resulting harm to the victim occurs in the state. In civil cases, jurisdiction depends on the parties to the lawsuit and only requires that the person being sued lives in or otherwise has sufficient contact with the state.

Therefore, a teacher or school employee who sexually abuses a student in another state or even another country can face liability in a civil lawsuit in the state where the teacher resides. A school chaperone on a school trip who sexually assaults a student can face a civil lawsuit in the state where the chaperone lives or where the school is.

Hypothetically speaking, in this recent criminal case in New Jersey involving allegations of sexual abuse during a school trip abroad, the teachers and the school could face civil liability for acts which occurred in Germany.


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*Source: www.northjersey.com, Ex-Paramus Catholic employees accused of having sex with students in Europe can be tried in Bergen County