SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that adds college professors and teaching assistants at public and private colleges and universities to state law as adults in a position of special trust is a step to protect younger college students from "predatory professors," the bill's sponsor told the House Education Committee Tuesday.
"Students have a right to be safe in any setting, certainly in a K-12 setting. But increasingly, we are graduating students early," said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.
About 3 percent of all students nationally graduate early and move on to higher education under the age of 18.
Citing a 2014 Government Accountability Report, Ivory said "1 in 10 college students are inflicted with adult sexual misconduct."
While Utah law includes K-12 educators, counselors and coaches among others who occupy a position of special trust with respect to minors, the law does not include college professors, instructors and teaching assistants who also interact with college students under age 18.
HB287 would add college professors and teaching assistants to state law defining adults in a position of special trust as an aggravating factor in cases of sexual abuse of a child. Aggravating factors can lead to enhanced criminal penalties.
"So we now have younger and younger students going to universities and our policies have not reflected that," Ivory said.
HB287 "adds in that situation," he said.
In Utah, some 20,000 students under the age of 18 are entering universities, Ivory said.
"So this provides an enhanced protection for them that they have a safe environment from being preyed upon sexually in a university setting," he said.
Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, thanked Ivory for carrying the legislation.
"It's unfortunate that we have to consider these things, but I appreciate the work you've done here. I think it's important to delineate those aggravating factors because those are special positions of trust that those people occupy, particularly when you think about sending younger and younger kids off to higher ed," Waldrip said.
Ivory said if one Googles the terms professor and sexual abuse, there are 1.2 million hits. "The stories are horrific," he said.
For people to achieve their "desired life, livelihood and pursuit of happiness, more and more you have to go through a university setting. To think that in our world sadly … we're in a setting you have to provide more and more protections. We have, frankly, predatory professors. I don't mean to cast this as a wide net but 1 in 10 … that's a serious situation," Ivory said.
The committee gave unanimous support to the bill. HB287 moves to the full House for its consideration.