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Minnesota Criminal Sexual Conduct: What is Positional Authority?

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In the definitions of criminal sexual conduct for the state of Minnesota, several conditions make the crime and the penalties more serious, such as using a weapon. One of these conditions is positional authority, or being in a position of authority over another. What does this condition mean?

It is assumed under the law that very young teenagers cannot give consent to sex because they are unable to completely understand what they are consenting to, and they are easily coerced. Being coerced means they are manipulated into the act, and, because of their age, do not have the emotional or intellectual maturity to understand the consequences. This coercion can be overt, such as a verbal threat, or it can be implied, in which the child understands or believes there is a danger in refusing.

WHAT KIND OF ADULTS ARE IN POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY?

One of the ways adults can coerce children into sexual acts is by the implication of having authority over them. Any adult assuming a parental role has positional authority. This includes step-parents, other relatives, and those unrelated adults living in the same house. Some types of roles include teachers, coaches, bus drivers, other school staff. This can include scout leaders, those who work in after school programs or those who are employed at the local gym or community center.

Anyone who wears a uniform in the course of work, such as a security guard, is automatically in a position of authority. The uniform alone implies authority. Military members, police and firefighters, and other first responders are always seen as having authority during a crisis, and that authority extends to coercion based on that authority.

During a natural disaster, emergency personnel are usually identified as such by t-shirts, vests, or other easily identifiable clothing. This identification gives them positional authority. Especially for those who have control over distribution of food and water, behavior must be exemplary to avoid the impression of coercion.

In a hospital or medical clinic, most adults are considered in positions of authority. Most adults, based on their age, and the difference in age between themselves and a child, can use that adulthood as a type of positional authority.

CAN TEENS BE IN A POSITION OF AUTHORITY?

Yes. Babysitters, team leaders, coaches or teaching assistants, can all be in positions of authority. Even if that relationship no longer exists, the fact that it once did means the teen can use it to have some control over another.

When looking at the definitions of criminal sexual conduct, the rules are that when a couple are significantly separated by age, the older partner can coerce the younger. Even in the case of these month-limits, however, some situations have more weight under the law, such as the use of threats or weapons. Being in a position of authority over another is one of the conditions that makes the crime more serious.

WHAT ABOUT CONSENT?

Consent assumes that the person is able to fully understand the consequences of the actions, and children under 13 cannot do this. Children under 13 cannot consent to sex, and this includes sexual behavior or contact other than penetration, such as watching pornography. Children between the ages of 13 and 16 can consent, but their consent can be easily coerced, making it invalid. They also cannot consent if the other person is significantly older than them, or is in a position of authority.

In addition, those who are temporarily helpless, such as a teen who has drank alcohol or taken drugs, cannot consent. This includes being asleep, appearing unconscious or semi-conscious. Those with significant mental health issues such as mood disorders or other serious psychiatric disorders cannot consent to sex. Those with intellectual disability that changes their understanding of consequences, such as those with developmental disorders or mental retardation, cannot consent. Some people who have sustained a head injury, such as a concussive trauma, may no longer be able to consent to sex, nor those who have developed dementia or other brain disorders.

With children and teenagers, consent cannot be implied by their actions. If they didn’t say no, or didn’t call for help, didn’t act upset–those actions do not imply consent. Especially when there is an issue of positional authority or suggestions of coercion, behavior cannot be used as a substitute for consent.

Consent, coercion, and positional authority can be complex issues, but the consequences of misunderstanding or making a mistake can impact the life and future of both parties.

STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS?

Minnesota has recently revised the statutes of limitations on sexual crimes, allowing more time for victims to come forward and report crime.

ARRESTED? CHARGED? CALL JENNIFER SPEAS TODAY!

Do you have concerns about these issues? Please contact us for more information, and so we can discuss next steps.