Tornado Drills? Fire Drills? Why Aren’t We Also Teaching Kids about Sex Abuse?

Portrait of child sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn of "Erin's Law" speaking into a microphone.

(July 16, 2015) – Today’s primary school children learn everything from how to respond if a tornado or other weather emergency threatens campus, to how to evacuate a bus safely or “shelter in place” in the wake of security threat. But — despite estimates that one in nine girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult — students and teachers are not universally required to learn about how to spot and respond to childhood sexual abuse.

Congress, working together with advocates and organizations like RAINN, is taking action to change this. Last month, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced S. 1665, the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act. On July 16, the full Senate passed this legislation as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act, S. 1177. The legislation amends existing law to encourage states to implement child sexual abuse awareness and prevention programs

This week, Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV) and Katherine Clark (D-MA) introduced a companion bill in the House. The legislation is designed to support states’ implementation of Erin's Law, named after Erin Merryn, a member of RAINN’s Speakers Bureau, who survived rape and sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend from the age of 6-8 and by a cousin from age 11-13. Erin’s tireless efforts on the state level have yielded incredible results: 26 states have adopted a version of the legislation, which requires public schools to provide child sexual abuse prevention education to students and professional development for school personnel.

"Keeping children in our communities safe from sexual abuse starts with educating people to recognize the signs of abuse," Rep. Joe Heck said. "Ensuring that states and local education agencies have the resources they need to educate students, parents, and guardians about how to recognize and report sexual abuse will aid in prevention and response to incidents of child abuse. I'm pleased to join my colleague Congresswoman Katherine Clark in advancing this important bill in the House and urge its swift passage."

“When only a tenth of children who experience sexual abuse tell an adult and get help, then we, as a community, are failing them,” said Rep. Clark. “In school, we teach kids what to do in case of fires, inclement weather, or other emergencies. It’s only common sense that we teach them strategies to stay safe and to reach out to an adult if they are abused. The Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act helps children learn how to recognize abuse, and empowers teachers and parents to work together to protect our kids.”

Said Merryn, “I am thrilled about federal proposals to help fund Erin’s Law, which has passed throughout the country. The biggest hurdle I face in the states is the argument that this is an unfunded mandate. This will allow schools to use organizations like RAINN to have trained prevention educators inform their programming for staff and students. I can’t see why anyone would be against this important legislation.”

Be part of the solution: Visit RAINN's Action Center and sign up for updates to stay informed about RAINN’s work to address key policy issues. Learn more about efforts to pass Erin’s Law on the state level.

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