Pennsylvania criminal law sets out many different sexually related offenses and different types of sexual assault. The different sexual assault charges depend on the nature of the sexual contact, the identity of the alleged victim, the identity of the alleged assailant, and other relevant circumstances. One type of sexual assault crime that often makes headlines and can greatly affect anyone’s life is that of institutional sexual assault.

Institutional sexual assault specifically applies to sexual contact between two individuals who have a specific relationship. The law sets out many individuals who may be charged with this offense, including employees of the following:

  • Department of Corrections or another correctional authority
  • Juvenile detention facilities run by the state or county
  • Youth forestry camps
  • Youth development centers
  • Groups homes or other residential facilities that serve youth
  • Mental health facilities

Any of the above may be charged with institutional sexual assault is they engage in sexual contact or intercourse with a resident, patient, or inmate of the facility in which they work.

Sexual Contact Between Students and Teachers

In addition to the above institutions, Pennsylvania law also specifically addresses sexual contact between employees of schools and students of the schools. People who may qualify as an employee of a school for the purposes of the law include the following:

  • Principals
  • Vice principals
  • Assistant principals
  • Supervising principals
  • Other supervisors
  • Teachers
  • Teacher aides
  • Substitute teachers
  • Visiting teachers
  • School counselors
  • School nurses
  • Athletic trainers or coaches
  • School librarians
  • School nutritionists
  • Cafeteria workers
  • Vocational teachers
  • Home and school visitors
  • Certain secretaries
  • Janitors
  • Dental hygienists
  • Bus drivers
  • Any other employees or independent contractors who have “direct contact” with students

As you can see, the list is extensive and there is a wide variety of individuals who work with school students who are not allowed under the law to have sexual contact with any students. If convicted of institutional sexual assault, an individual can face a sentence that may include a fine up to $15,000 and up to seven years in state prison.

It is highly important to realize that the law regarding institutional sexual assault in PA has been amended in recent years to cover a much wider range of circumstances. For example, age does not matter when it comes to sexual contact with students – even if the student is of the age to consent to sexual activity. In addition, the contact is unlawful even if the sexual contact is consensual. This means that a teacher can be charged and convicted for sexual interaction with a student who is 18 or older and who knowingly consents to the contact.

Challenges to the Law Denied

Many people have tried to challenge the expansive school sexual assault laws. Specifically, one teacher’s aide brought an appeal recently that tried to assert that different aspects of the law were unconstitutional and, therefore, her conviction and sentence violated her constitutional rights. The teacher’s aide was 40 years old and had consensual sex with an 18-year-old student away from school property. She was convicted and received five years of probation and was ordered to register with the state sex offender registry. The following are her arguments, which the appeals court rejected:

  • The law referred to “he” as the perpetrator of institutional sexual assault and, therefore, was too vague to refer to a female school employee;
  • The law was overly broad in violation of the 14th Amendment because it aimed to criminalize and prohibit lawful sexual conduct between two adults who consented.

First, the court ruled that “he” in the law was intended to refer to both men and women and thus rejected that argument. Finally, the court ruled that the institutional sexual assault law aimed to protect students who could be coerced – whether overtly or subtly – into engaging in sexual conduct with someone in a position of authority at school. The court referred to a corrections officer unlawfully engaging in sexual contact with an inmate and the age of the inmate does not matter, as it is the power the officer may have over the inmate that matters. Therefore, the age of a student is irrelevant in this type of case. The conviction was, therefore, upheld.

Discuss Your Criminal Charges with a Highly Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Even though recent challenges to the law have been denied, there are ways to defend against sexual assault charges and it is critical to have an experienced Philadelphia sex crimes defense lawyer handling your case. Call The Zeiger Firm for help today at 215-546-0340.


  1. https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=18&div=0&chpt=31&sctn=24&subsctn=2
  2. https://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2015/10/female_teacher_aides_student-s.html

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.