Child Sex Offences, Penalties and Defences in NSW

Sahar Adatia.

 

A school teacher in the United States has been arrested on suspicion of having sex with a 14-year-old student in her car after naked photographs and explicit text messages were uncovered.

Brittany Lopez-Murray, 31, who teaches drama at a Hialeah Middle Community School in Hialeah, Florida, was arrested on Saturday 2 October 2021 for allegedly having sex with the boy, which is understood to have occurred on more than one occasion.

According to a police report, the arrest came after the victim’s family discovered a series of naked photographs and crude text messages on his phone, allegedly from Ms Lopez-Murray.

In particular, the young boy’s sister and father stumbled upon messages between the two that revealed “how much they enjoyed sex with each other”, while photos of her showed “exposed breasts and vagina”.

Moreover, the boy’s sister became increasingly suspicious of the way he was on his phone, making sure no one would see what he was doing – and it was at this point that the police became involved.

It is alleged that back in August, Ms Lopez-Murray confessed her “feelings toward” the young boy over the phone.

Following this, she allegedly had sex with the boy on multiple occasions over a period of two months.

Claims are also surfacing that the teacher would sometimes pick up the 14-year-old from basketball practice, after which the pair would then engage in sex in her white Jeep.

In addition, it is alleged the woman would encourage her victim to send child pornography images by responding to messages with phrases such as “perfect” and “yum”.

Ms Lopez-Murray has been charged with engaging in a sexual act with a child, along with lewd and lascivious battery and molestation.

 

Defence Lawyers for Ms Lopez-Murray Maintain Teacher is “Presumed Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

The Miami-Dade school district has since advised the teacher will be sacked in light of her arrest.

“All employees receive training and are expected to abide by the District’s Standards of Ethical Conduct policy,” the school district said.

“It is unfortunate that despite our efforts, the actions of some individuals run contrary to the behaviour that is expected of them.

“As a result of this arrest, M-DCPS will begin the process of terminating her employment and prevent her from seeking future work with this District.”

In response, the teacher’s defence lawyers, Landon Ray and Jeff Chukwuma, said they had not been provided a copy of their client’s arrest report and called for the teacher to be spared judgment before trial.

“She is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” the lawyers said.

“We hope everyone is patient, doesn’t rush to judgment and respects the family’s privacy.”

Ms Lopez-Murray has been a teacher for four years, while it was informed by the district that she is “without prior disciplinary history”.

In 2017, Hialeah Middle Community School named her “rookie teacher of the year”.

In the state of Florida, the legal age of consent is 18 years old.

This means that any individual aged 17 or younger in Florida is not legally able to consent to sexual activity.

Child Sex Offences, Penalties and Defences in NSW

In NSW, sexual intercourse with a child aged between 10 and under the age of 16 years is a criminal offence and the penalties are severe to reflect the seriousness of the crime, depending on the age.

In particular, as outlined in section 66C of the Crimes Act 1900, where the child is of or above the age of 10 and under the age of 14, a maximum penalty of 16 years in jail applies.

However, if the offence is aggravated, a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail applies.

In cases where the victim is of or above the age of 14 years and under the age of 16 years, a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail applies for an offence.

Again, if the offence is aggravated, the maximum penalty increases, in this case to 12 years in jail.

“Circumstances of aggravation” include where the alleged offender intentionally or recklessly inflicts or merely threatens actual bodily harm on the alleged victim, where the alleged offender is in the company of another person or persons, where the alleged victim is under the authority of the alleged offender, and where the alleged victim has a serious physical disability or a cognitive impairment.

Available defences to a child sex offence include an honest and reasonable mistake of age defence, similar age difference defence, medical purpose or duress or necessity.

Click here for an outline on the law on adult sexual assault and age of consent in NSW.

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