Representative prepares sexual misconduct bill
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Representative prepares sexual misconduct bill

Date: November 14, 2007
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Calling Missouri the 11th worth state in the nation for sexual misconduct by teachers, the chair of the House Education Committee announced legislation she will push in next year's session to toughen standards.

"Missouri statutes prohibit sexual offenders from being within 1000 feet of our schools, and yet they are right inside our classrooms," said Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County.

She cited a Congressional report finding that "as many as almost 1 in 10 students in American schools are subject to sexual misconduct by a school employee between kindergarten and 12th grade."

The report found that between 2001 to 2005, 87 teachers in Missouri lost their teaching credentials because of sexual conduct, making Missouri the 11th worst state in the nation.

Cunningham said that she wants to use her bill would tighten policies, procedures and requirements and streamline reporting procedures.

"This is something we need to address,",said Sen. John Loudon R.-Chesterfield, member of the Senate Education Committee and the Judiciary and Civil Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. "We have to do everything to protect the kids from predators."

To highlight the issue, Cunningham presented a woman who said she been the victim of a sexual abuse by a teacher throughout junior high.

"I became his sexual toy," said Amy Davis, a mid-Missouri resident.

Davis, now 40, said she did not come forward with her story until she was 28 years old. Because of statute of limitation issues at the time, her teacher was not convicted. Despite these accusations, the teacher continues his teaching career.

Cunningham said she wants to remove statute of limitation for sexual misconduct with a minor, which prevents conviction of a crime 20 years after the age of 18, unless there is a few years difference in age. She said that in many cases of sexual abuse, "victims are afraid to tell for years or even live with a lifetime of after-affects and dysfunction."

But that idea raised words of caution from Loudon.

"That's something you'd be cautious about," said Loudon. "We have one of the strongest statute of limitation laws in terms of protecting children." He said that statute of limitation is important because memories fade over time and evidence isn't as reliable.

Another Cunningham cited in the system is that the Education Department "has not required Family Care Safety Registry checks prior to employment." Also, background checks are not required for a teaching certificate and a lack of periodic checks for existing teachers.

Loudon said that he agrees that addressing these issues are important.  "If you're working with children we should know your background."

Davis asked for other victims to come forward, and hopes that her story encourages other victims to tell their stories.

Cunningham said that she wants to make sure that there is balance between security for students and justice for teachers who my be falsely accused of sexual misconduct. She is waiting for the hearing to further discuss what that balance may be.