‘Erin’s Law’ approved by Senate

LANSING – Legislation known as “Erin’s Law” and sponsored by Sen. Judy Emmons to help prevent the sexual abuse of children in Michigan was approved on Wednesday by the state Senate.

“Erin’s Law is about protecting Michigan children from sexual abuse by increasing education and empowering survivors,” said Emmons, R-Sheridan. “Tragically, it is estimated that sexual abuse takes the innocence of childhood from 25 percent of girls and one of every seven boys, with survivors knowing their abuser more than 90 percent of the time. Many abuse cases go unreported because the survivors are afraid to come forward. Erin’s Law is about eliminating that fear and ending the abuse.”

Senate Bills 1112-1114 would require school boards to adopt and implement policies addressing child sexual abuse and would create a one-time Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children to make recommendations on how to best prevent child sexual abuse in Michigan.

The Senate approved the bipartisan measures after Erin Merryn, a sexual abuse survivor from Illinois, told lawmakers about her experience and the need for bipartisan legislation to increase education and training in an effort to help prevent the sexual abuse of children.

Erin’s Law is named after Merryn, whose advocacy in her home state led to the passage of a similar law there in 2011. After going public about abuse by a family member, Merryn made it her mission to try to ensure that children have the age-appropriate education to recognize and talk about sexual abuse.

“As a child I was educated in school on tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, stranger danger and drugs, but when I was sexually abused, I listened to the only message I was being given – and that came from my abusers to stay silent,” said Merryn. “Educating kids on sexual abuse prevention in schools is the best way to empower kids to tell so abuse won’t go on for years the way it did for me. My voice was silenced. I am on a mission to make sure no other child has their voice silenced and innocence stolen the way mine was.”

Under the bills, schools could adopt age-appropriate curriculum, train school personnel on child sexual abuse, and adopt policies for informing parents on the warning signs of abuse. Parents would be made aware of the curriculum and be able to “opt out” if they did not want their child involved.

“As a mother and grandmother, I applaud Erin for her courage and dedication in working to help parents and children get the tools and support they need to identify abuse and get help,” Emmons said. “My bill would help protect our children from sexual abuse and enable parents to make the ultimate decision about the appropriateness of sexual abuse instruction for their young child.”

Similar laws have been enacted in Maine, Indiana and Missouri, and legislation has been introduced in several other states, including Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania. SBs 1112-1114 now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Editor’s Note – Audio comments by Sen. Emmons are available on the senator’s webpage at www.SenatorJudyEmmons.com. Click on “Podcasts.”