***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
At the tender age of 6, Erin Merryn was sexually abused by a male neighbor, and this abuse continued for two years. From the ages of 11 to 13 she again became the victim of sexual assault, this time at the hands of her teenage cousin. Merryn would eventually come forward to her parents with this information when she discovered that her sister had also been a victim at the hands of their cousin. Her parents would soon press charges, but the cousin only received counseling and “no punishment,” according to Merryn.
When Merryn was a senior in high school in 2005 she published her personal diary of the events surrounding those events and, two years later, released a second book discussing the abuse by her then-neighbor. As she brought greater attention to herself and the crimes committed against her, she became an advocate for the teaching of sexual abuse prevention of children and, in 2011, she successfully passed “Erin’s Law” in her home state of Illinois.
Currently eight states have some version of Erin’s Law on the books, and 18 states are considering it. Representative Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City) made Utah the 19th state to bring Erin’s Law up for a vote with HB 286 – Child Sexual Abuse Prevention.
Erin’s Law, as outlined in HB 286, would require school districts to provide age appropriate education about child sexual abuse prevention. It also would require districts to train personnel and parents about warning signs and prevention.
“I was not educated on not keeping secrets if someone was hurting me. My mission, through this legislation, is to educate children on what I never learned. I will not stop until children in all 50 states are protected from sexual abuse.” Merryn said in an interview published on New York State Senator David Valesky’s website.
This mindset points to the needs of such legislation.
Though children should be taught to respect and trust adults, this blanket statement is harmful in the case of abuse. If a child is not taught that it is okay to speak out against abuse, there is very little that will make a child speak out.
Unfortunately, the statistics speak for themselves: 1 in 5 girls are sexually assaulted before the age of 18, while 1 in 20 boys also suffer the same fate. This equates to a sexual assault of a minor once every six minutes. It is estimated that between 75 and 90 percent of these assaults are perpetrated by a trusted individual such as a family member or other closely trusted individual such as a coach, baby sitter, friend, or neighbor. Meanwhile only one in 10 children will actually report that they have been sexually abused, and children who experience sexual abuse often suffer from learning problems, substance abuse, destructive behavior, depression, and PTSD, among other things.
Romero, with HB 286, is taking the necessary first step to not only recover from, but prevent sexual assault among youth. It is worth our valuable classroom time to give children, parents, and administrators the tools they need to help identify and report these horrific crimes. As these lessons are age-appropriate, parents should not worry that their children will be exposed to inappropriate material and, as sexual assault can lead to so many problems later in life, it is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are protected.
To contact Representative Romero, click here or call 801-722-4972.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker