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KPCC report on LAUSD sex abuse suit sparks 3 bills on sexual consent in civil cases

State Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose).
Office of Assemblywoman Campos
State Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose).

KPCC's report earlier this month on the LAUSD's argument in a civil lawsuit that a 14-year-old can consent to sex with her 28-year-old teacher has prompted three state lawmakers to introduce bills designed to make sure that can't happen again.

The girl's family had sued the L.A. Unified School District, seeking financial compensation for the district's handling of the situation. LAUSD's defense rested in part on its assertion that the girl bore some responsibility for the sexual relationship.

The age of consent is strictly set at 18 in criminal cases, but L.A. Unified's lawyer in the lawsuit pointed to state appellate rulings that he said permitted him to argue in a civil case that a minor can consent to sex with an adult.

"It is stunning that a 14-year-old girl would be considered responsible for the predatory behavior of a pedophile," said State Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose), who planned to introduce her measure on Monday. "This bill makes it absolutely clear that a child does not share the blame for predatory behavior. This blame the victim attitude in sexual assaults must stop."

The legislation will seek to "remove the loophole in law that allows defendants in civil cases to argue that the child victim consented to the sexual assault," said Sailaja Rajappan, Campos' chief of staff, who expressed confidence that the "common sense" bill will garner widespread bipartisan support.

State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) and State Sen. Ted Gaines (D-Roseville) are each separately introducing similar legislation in the senate Monday, according to their offices.

"It’s unjust that for the same crime of sexual abuse against a minor there can be different consequences depending on which court a case is heard in,” Lara said in a statement. "It is critical for the Legislature to explicitly define consent and expand the rape shield law to the civil code to stop these injustices from continuing."

The teacher in the case,  Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child and sentenced in July 2011 to three years in state prison. 

This story was updated on Dec. 1, 2014 to reflect that Senators Lara and Gaines are each introducing similar legislation, and that Assemblywoman Campos is no longer Speaker Pro Tem.