"Bullying and gang violence was something I had to deal with early on," she remembers. "I was one of those kids who always stuck up for the underdogs. So if somebody was being picked on, I usually would try to intervene."
Now Sanchez is working to make public schools safer by requiring educators to do more to stop bullying.
According to Sanchez, bullying can have chillingly dangerous effects. The killers in the Virginia Tech and Columbine High School tragedies were bullied before turning violent themselves. In another sad irony, victims of bullies sometimes see joining gangs as a way to protect themselves, Sanchez notes.
According to statistics, one in 10 high school dropouts blames bullying. Being bullied puts kids at high risk of having failing grades, hurting themselves with drugs or alcohol and carrying lifelong emotional scars.
"Kids who are bullied are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and depression that can lead to suicide," says Sanchez, who also chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee and sits on the House Education and Labor Committee.
"And the kids who do the bullying, there is a very clear link to becoming an adult career criminal. So if we can stop that behavior when it is not as severe, you can reduce (future) crime," she explains.
Sanchez is the author of two bills that tackle bullying and gangs. Key parts of her bills are in the working draft of House legislation to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law this fall.
Currently, states receive federal money for programs to stamp out drugs and violence from schools. At Sanchez's urging, the House draft would require states -- in exchange for that federal aid -- to report on the prevalence of bullying, harassment and gang activity and to prove they're trying to reduce those problems.
That requirement would be a great first step.
But, as Congress reworks No Child, it should take the all-important next step -- spelled out in Sanchez's original legislation -- and say that schools' anti-bullying efforts need to specifically address all the most common types of attacks: those based on a "student's actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion."
These moves are in fact, recommended by the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Education Association and the National PTA.
Studies show that schools that list all sorts of bullying and tell students, "None of this is allowed!" are more peaceful than those with vague anti-bullying policies, according to "From Teasing to Torment," a report by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
According to the National Mental Health Association, anti-gay bullying ends ups disproportionately hurting straight kids: For every gay, bisexual or transgender kid who gets tormented, four straight kids are harassed because their abuser thought they were gay.
Schools should be places "where kids can go and learn in peace -- without fear," Sanchez says.