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Proposed Alabama law criminalizing clergy having sex with teens inspired by victims’ stories

A new bill proposed in the Alabama Legislature would make it illegal for clergy to have sexual interactions with children and teens under 19 years old.

House Bill 125, sponsored by State Rep. Leigh Hulsey (R-Helena), creates the crime of unlawful sex acts committed by clergy.

It’s modeled on Alabama’s law prohibiting teachers from having sexual relationships with students.

“It’s almost identical to that bill,” Hulsey told AL.com.

“In the state of Alabama, consent for sexual activity is 16 years of age. Our law explicitly waives that as a defense for teachers, but it does not anywhere else, such as where people are underneath the trust or authority of someone like you would find yourself in a church Sunday school class.”

Hulsey said the experiences of several constituents convinced her a new law was needed.

Ivy Victoria Laine Jeter said she reported to Hueytown Police that a staff member at a Baptist church in Hueytown had abused his authority with her to engage in sexual activity.

“It was a youth pastor,” Jeter told AL.com.

“When he started grooming me, I was like 12 to 13 years old,” Jeter said. “Sexual stuff did not happen till age of consent, which is when I was 16. There was like a 20-year age difference. He’s 40-something now.”

When she went to the police years later, she was told no laws had been broken, she said.

“I reported it in 2022,” Jeter said. “There was legally nothing they could do. I never said no.”

Clergy are in a position of authority similar to teachers and should be held to the same legal standard, she said.

“If he was a teacher, he would have been arrested,” Jeter said. “Age of consent doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher. If you’re abusing your power, that’s where you get in trouble, if you’re on the staff of a school.”

Jeter’s story was compelling, but not the only one, Hulsey said.

“Ivy was absolutely a part of that,” Hulsey said. “It was a collection of efforts of constituents. She was not the only person that called, but she was certainly the forerunner of that.”

Hulsey said she worked with leadership of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and the Alabama Citizens Action Program, or ALCAP, to get their input, along with the attorney general’s office.

“They have been very helpful in addressing this pressing issue,” Hulsey said.

She hopes a new law can help victims who’ve been left unprotected by current law.

“We looked at why they were told they could not do anything and what’s a good way to tackle this that we can prevent this in the future.”

Hulsey said she introduced the bill last week and she expects it to make it to a House committee possibly on Wednesday.

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