A New Bill for a New Crime: Sexual Assault by Sports Official

Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws are already broken down into several categories: for example, institutional sexual assault is charged in instances where a facility staff member attacks one of the patients or children in their care.  Now, Pennsylvania is introducing a new bill to handle another category: sexual assault by sports official.  What prompted the bill, and how is it being received?


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Vereb-Sponsored HB 112 to Target Sports Officials Assaulting Juveniles

Bills take time, effort, and money, which means they’re seldom drafted without ample reason.  What triggered the creation of HB 112, and what does it hope to change?

In the words of primary sponsor Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery):

“My legislation targets sports officials, such as coaches, athletic trainers, team attendants and managers by providing that it is unlawful for these individuals to engage in sexual intercourse, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with a child under 18 years of age who is participating in the sports program.”

One of Vereb’s main goals with HB 112 is to increase accountability for sex offenders whose 16- or 17-year-old victims are young enough to be preyed upon by trusted authority figures, yet too old to trigger statutory rape charges.

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“Gordon Would Never Have Been Charged with Rape if She Was 16”

The bill was inspired by a similar Pennsylvania statute (Title 18, §3124.2) pertaining to institutional sexual assault, which covers assaults by authority figures against students in schools.  What sets HB 112 apart is its exclusive focus on sports-related authority figures, whereas §3124.2 is broader and includes principals, librarians, nurses, and others.

While school-employed athletic staff are already covered in §3124.2, which cites coaches, athletic trainers, and independently contracted coaches and trainers, the preexisting statute does not extend to volunteer employees.  HB 112 would cover both volunteers and paid employees.

The bill defines a “sports official” as:

“A person who supervises children participating in a sports program of a nonprofit association or
a for-profit association, including, but not limited to, a
coach, assistant coach, athletic trainer, team attendant, game manager, instructor or a person at a sports program who enforces the rules of a sporting event… including, but not limited to, an umpire or referee, whether receiving remuneration or holding the position as a volunteer.”

Offenses contained within HB 112 include:

  • Deviate Sexual Intercourse
  • Indecent Contact
  • Sexual Intercourse

Commission of any of the above acts would be considered a third degree felony.

British Olympic swimmer Katherine Starr, who established the Safe4Athletes organization in California in 2011, fully supports the bill.  Starr was abused by her coach as a teenager, and is heartened by the recognition HB 112 would bring to the issue.

“You’re beholden to your coach,” Starr explains.  “Whether [your goal is] pleasing your parents or becoming an Olympian, as soon as you’ve committed to a sport, you become vulnerable and there is no ability to say yes or no.  You are now beholden to this person guiding you down that path.”

She adds, “Regardless of age of consent, we need to understand the power dynamic between a coach and an athlete.”

While Starr is headquartered in California, Vereb drew inspiration to create the bill from a case in Lower Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania.  In 2010, then-37-year-old William E. Gordon III pleaded guilty to statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of a minor, and endangering the welfare of a child.  His victim was 15 years old.

“[Gordon] would never have been… charged with rape if she was 16,” notes Vereb, “and that was bone chilling to me.  [This bill is] a lightning bolt of a message: you put your hands on a child, regardless of which age they are now, you’re going to pay the price.”

The bill would take 60 days to come into effect.  You can read its full contents here.

If you have been charged with rape or sexual assault in Pennsylvania, you could be facing extremely costly fines and a lengthy prison sentence.  To schedule your completely free and confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of criminal defense attorneys Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania, or contact us online.

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