By John Sittler
An Indiana couple told lawmakers Tuesday that therapists should be added to the list of adults who can't have sex with minors - even when they reach 16, the age of consent in other situations - because they have influence over their lives.
Charlotte and Ronald Standeford of Crawfordsville told the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee that their adopted son - then 16 years old - was victimized by a counselor he trusted.
"It was horrible. It was a horrible nightmare that I don't want any parent to ever have to go through," Charlotte Standeford said.
The situation led Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, to introduce Senate Bill 53, which would add counselors and other adults with influence over at risk teenagers to a list of those eligible to be charged with child seduction. That's a Class D felony, which is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 or three years in prison.
The Standefords told lawmakers that their son disappeared on March 5, 2012. They described what they did to find their son, including contacting the police and filing a restraining order against his biological parents. But he still hadn't turned up after five days.
Finally, after getting on her son's Facebook page, his mother discovered that he had a relationship with his therapist. She later learned that the therapist had been suspended from her job the previous Friday.
After the boy returned home, his parents learned the two had been engaged in a sexual relationship. Charlotte Standeford said the therapist "took advantage" of the boy's emotional issues.
"She manipulated him," Standerford said. "She was supposed to help him and she traumatized him more."
According to police reports, the boy said his therapist was "the only person that really listened to him."
The Standefords tried to bring charges against their son's therapist. Because he was 16 at the time - the age of consent in Indiana - the therapist was not guilty of kidnapping, rape or any other related crimes, said Vigo County prosecutor Terry Modesitt, who looked into the case.
For every possible felony, their son was either too old or the charge did not apply because the therapist was not a school official, he said.
"It's definitely a hole in our law," Modesitt said. "We as prosecutors and elected officials think our top job is to protect our youth and our young people because they're defenseless and they can't protect themselves."
Currently, state law only lists school employees, military recruiters and stepparents as individuals who can be charged with child seduction in cases involving 16- and 17-year-olds. The new measure aims to add counselors, including psychologists and psychiatrists.
But Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said that would leave out someone who quit their job to avoid prosecution. Tallian said she was concerned that just adding various occupations to a list of people who weren't allowed to do this wasn't enough.
So lawmakers also debated whether to re-word the entire law to give prosecutors more discretion in child seduction cases. But that led to concerns the legislation would be too broad.
Eventually, the committee decided to send the bill to a subcommittee for further review and to organize the language of the bill. The group is expected to bring the bill back to full committee in about two weeks.
John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.