I have spent the last three decades as an advocate for victims and families of sexual abuse and misconduct by school employees. Part of my role is listening to and comforting parents as they agonize over the loss of their child’s innocence, youth and ability to trust others. I’ve seen victims struggle for years with depression and recurring thoughts of suicide. Perhaps worst of all, however, I’ve watched as teachers who committed this unthinkable crime walk free.
In 2005, I thought that would finally change.
On the day before the 2005 legislative session ended, a bill I had worked on was making its way to the floor. It finally would have required teachers convicted of sexual misconduct with pupils — the criminal statute I lobbied for in 1997 — to register as sex offenders.
But in the final hours of session, Chris Giunchigliani stripped that particular language from the bill allowing it to pass without holding teachers accountable through this registry. Her actions meant that, for another 10 years, teachers convicted of this horrible offense did not have to register as sex offenders, thus making it easier for them to hide their crime and, perhaps, offend again.
I’ve seen Giunchigliani’s response to the investigative piece published in the Reno Gazette Journal. I am deeply sorry for what she and her sister had to endure. No child and no individual should ever be the victim of sexual assault. That belief has been my driving force as an advocate since the 1980s when I discovered a local teacher was sexually abusing young girls at a school in my community. But having heard her personal tragedy does not change the disappointment and astonishment I still feel knowing how Giunchigliani’s actions left countless children at risk for years because of political calculations.
No one should ever pick and choose which sexual predators face the full force of the law, but that’s what Giunchigliani did in 2005. Teachers above all else should be held to the highest standard. We entrust them with our children every day. We expect them to protect and educate our children. When they violate that position of trust in such an abhorrent way, they should be punished as the predators that they are. Penalizing them to register as sex offenders for life is imperative to make sure they can’t find access to children ever again as some of them have. That is why I persisted to make registering mandatory, which was finally achieved in 2015.
Political calculations and legislative dealmaking should never come before the safety of our children. Giunchigliani’s unconscionable political choices left not just students at risk for 10 years longer; patients at mental health facilities and inmates in prison are still at risk. She chose to leave our most vulnerable populations blind to the presence of sexual predators rather than stand up and fight for them.