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GOP lawmaker behind proposed book ban warns of 'grooming' in schools, but expert says he's wrong

Rep. Jake Hoffman cites an 18-year-old statement by a professor who's led studies of educator misconduct. She says his ban wouldn't do anything to prevent abuse.

PHOENIX — The sponsor of an Arizona bill that would ban sexually explicit books in schools is rallying supporters by claiming the legislation would "help stop sexual grooming" in the classroom.

But an expert quoted by the bill sponsor, Republican State Rep. Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek, says Hoffman got it wrong: a book ban wouldn't protect schoolchildren.

"I read the legislation, and quite frankly, I'm puzzled by it," said Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who has studied sexual misconduct by educators for 30 years.

"I'm not sure what problem it's trying to solve... I can see nowhere in that legislation, that it would do anything to alleviate school employee sexual misconduct." 

Hoffman's bill, HB2495, has stalled in the state Senate after passage by the full House.

The Senate's approval would send the bill to Gov. Doug Ducey's desk for his signature.

In a post Friday on his Telegram account, Hoffman urged supporters to contact senators.

"We cannot allow the sexualization and sexual grooming of Arizona children," he wrote in all-capital letters.

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Echoes nationwide rhetoric

When he spoke about the bill on the House floor in February, Hoffman said it was "about nothing more than protecting the innocence of Arizona children from sexually explicit materials." 

Hoffman's ramped-up rhetoric about "grooming" echoes a talking point for Republicans nationwide.

Critics say Republicans are trying to sow doubt among parents about what schools are teaching their children. The legislation is also viewed as part of an attack on LGBT rights in GOP-controlled state capitols around the country.

Hoffman posted an 18-year-old statement by Shakeshaft that sexual abuse in schools was likely much worse than abuse by the clergy:

"The physical sexual abuse in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests," she wrote in a paper for the U.S. Department of Education in 2004, which was commissioned by the U.S. Senate.

'A misuse of my research' 

Shakeshaft's study of sexual abuse complaints in schools during the 1990's was reportedly the first of its kind.

"It's a misuse of my research, and it's just misleading to people," Shakeshaft said of Hoffman's post. 

"At the time that I wrote this, there was not much attention directed toward schools and working to keep kids safe in schools, from school employee sexual misconduct... So the purpose of that was just to try to get people to focus on how important schools were, in terms of stopping the sexual abuse of students by school employees."

A joint investigation three years ago by KJZZ radio and the Arizona Republic revealed  vulnerabilities in the state's system for disciplining teachers accused of sexual misconduct.

Shakeshaft: Sex education helps

Shakeshaft says the best way to stop sexual predators is with sex education classes.

"We have really good evidence that... the kinds of things that are taught in sex education help children and adolescents identify harmful behaviors or harmful patterns, and help them learn how to report this and keep themselves safe."

Shakeshaft is part of a team evaluating a program to prevent sexual misconduct by school employees, under a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We have first rate training for schools... and it's free," she said. 

Shakeshaft provided her email address for any school district that might be interested in the training.

RELATED: Expanded parental rights fight brews at Arizona Legislature

Rep. Hoffman Responds

Hoffman provided this response:

"The growing trend of sexually explicit materials being shown to children in Arizona schools is wrong on every level. (This bill) protects children by ensuring that schools will not be allowed to use, or refer students to, sexually explicit material."

Hoffman has made headlines in recent months as one of Arizona Republicans' 11 "phony electors" for Donald Trump. They claimed they represented the state's official vote in the presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden. 

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection has issued subpoenas to four of the 11 electors.

Before he won election in 2020, Hoffman was punished by Twitter and Facebook for running what was described as a "troll farm" that relied on teenagers to post comments on social media that appeared to be real people.

Hoffman's marketing firm was banned by Facebook, and his Twitter account was permanently suspended, according to news reports.

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