by people they already know. Even worse, more and more children are harmed by the very people entrusted to educate and protect them.
Recently, I received a call from a parent of a child in southern Arizona who was abused by an authority figure. These types of calls are heartbreaking. These predators, who are in positions of trust, should be held to the same standard as parents and not punished with a mere slap on the wrist.
Fortunately, there are actions being taken to combat this growing problem. Senate Bill 1336, which I sponsored and was recently signed into law, toughens the penalties for teachers or clergy who have sexual conduct with teenagers. This legislation expands the class 2 felony classification to include teachers and clergy and ensures these offenders will serve a flat time in prison with no early release. This sends a strong message to people who violate this ultimate position of trust.
Currently, sexual conduct with a minor under age 15 is a Class 2 felony and sexual conduct with a minor 15 years or older by a parent, stepparent, guardian or foster parent is also a Class 2 felony. But sexual conduct by a teacher or clergy member with a child over age 15 is only a Class 6 felony, which can be plead down to a misdemeanor.
For too long this type of abuse has been kept behind closed doors. As unsavory as the topic is, we need to acknowledge it publicly to make it harder for the small but dangerous group of pedophiles and sexual predators to take advantage of our children.
A local Arizona paper reported recently that since 1995, 176 educators surrendered or had their teaching licenses revoked for sexual incidents. On average, 15 teachers in Arizona lose their jobs each year for sexual misconduct and these are only the ones who are caught.
The U.S. Department of Education found in a 2004 nationwide survey that 7 percent of students between kindergarten and graduation from high school reported being the target of physical sexual exploitation by an adult who works in a school. Only about 9 percent of these children actually report the abuse and 90 percent of the cases never get to the police.
We have to make it more difficult for these teachers and clergy to quietly resign and leave one school or church, only to show up at another and abuse again. This new law will help accomplish that goal. We must stay vigilant in keeping our children safe. We should empower them with the skills to minimize exposure to predatory actions and become participants in their own safety and well-being. Part of that includes knowing that danger does not only come from strangers.