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Illinois bill would allow teachers who abuse students over 18 to be criminally charged

Illinois law would allow for prosecutions for teachers who abuse students under 18
Illinois law would allow for prosecutions for teachers who abuse students under 18 02:40

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Advocates joined a survivor who was sexually abused by her northwest suburban high school teacher Monday to take issue with what they call a legal loophole in Illinois law that leaves older high school students vulnerable.

Many high school seniors are 18 years old, and some are even older. As it stands now in Illinois, if a teacher or other staff member is sexually abusing a high school student 18 or older, there is no way to press charges.

Faith Colson was a junior at Schaumburg High School in the early 2000s when her physics teacher began grooming and then sexually abusing her when she was 17. The teacher was ultimately prosecuted and convicted - but Colson said her age played a crucial role.

"You know, I turned 18 in January of my senior year," Colson said, "and so, if this teacher would have groomed me while I was 17 and waited until my 18th birthday to touch me, I would have had no recourse. My parents would have had no recourse - and even coming forward as an adult, I would have had no recourse."

In Illinois, teachers can be fired for having sexual relationships with students. However, if the student is over 18, they can't be charged criminally.  

"It's arbitrary to say that suddenly, a student can consent to sex when they turn 18 when they can't consent to not going to school - they can't graduate high school," said Colson. "If they just ditch class, they get in trouble."

Colson argued that without criminal charges on their record, a sexually abusive teacher might be able to find another job working with kids easily.

Proposed Illinois law would allow criminal charges for teachers who abuse students over 18 02:41

Dan Vosnos agrees, but he's advocating for a specific population that is impacted.

Vosnos is the executive director of Unique Learners Unite. On Monday, he gave CBS 2 a tour of GiGi's PlayHouse in Hoffman Estates, which provides programming for individuals with Down syndrome.

"Individuals with disabilities can be in school between the ages of 18 and 22 in Illinois," Vosnos said, "and some of these kids are cognitively and developmentally delayed, and they don't really understand when that line is being crossed."

Both Vosnos and Colson are in support of legislation that would criminalize sexual relations between teachers and students ages 18 to 23.

"These individuals are left unprotected," Vosnos said.

A recent bill that would do just that—HB4241—sailed through the Illinois state House of Representatives but is now sitting in the state Senate.

The advocates say that one way or another, they are determined to see the loophole closed.

"Students, to have any chance of a future, are required to have a high school graduation," Colson said, "and they need to be safe until they have that diploma."

The Chicago Public Schools said in a statement, "Chicago Public Schools (CPS) prioritizes and takes seriously its responsibility to ensure the safety, security and well-being of all students. The District supports HB 4241."

The Illinois Principals Association and the Illinois Association of School Administrators are also in support of the measure. 

West suburban teacher accused in lawsuits

The legislation comes as similar allegations have surfaced about a former west suburban teacher and coach.

Since June 2021, three women have filed lawsuits against former teacher Dallas Hill – as well as the two school districts that employed him. The lawsuit claimed Till groomed and sexually abused two students at Elmwood Park High School, as well as a third student at Morton East High School in Cicero – where he was a student teacher.

The women claim school staff knew of Till's behavior and failed to report it.

Till has not been charged with any crimes.

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