LANSING – Sens. John Proos, Judy Emmons and Rebekah Warren introduced bipartisan legislation on Wednesday in the Michigan Senate to help prevent the sexual abuse of children.
“Childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence, where a child can learn, play and enjoy life – free of the realities of adulthood, especially concerning sexual abuse,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “Unfortunately, many of our kids have this innocence taken from them. One in four girls and one of every seven boys are sexually abused by age 18, and in more than 90 percent of these cases, their abuser is someone they know. This legislation would help end that cycle.”
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, made up of legislators, state officials and experts to make recommendations on changes to Michigan laws.
Retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver, chair of the governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, said: “The task force is grateful Senators Proos, Emmons and Warren are concerned about the prevention of the sexual abuse of children and the task force will be reviewing the proposed legislation.”
The bipartisan measures are named “Erin’s Law” after Erin Merryn, a sexual abuse survivor from Illinois, 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.”
If the bills are passed and signed, Michigan would join Illinois, Indiana and Missouri in enacting Erin’s Law to protect children from sexual predators.
“As a mother and grandmother, I applaud Erin for her bravery and leadership in working to help children get the education and support they need to identify abuse and get help,” said Emmons, R-Sheridan. “Many child sexual abuse survivors are afraid to come forward. Erin’s Law is about eliminating that fear and ending the abuse.”
Similar legislation has also been introduced in New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Indiana, Maine, Iowa and Massachusetts.
“Recent events around the country have highlighted the importance of increased awareness of child sexual abuse,” said Warren, D-Ann Arbor. “This legislation will not only educate and encourage our children to speak up, but it also ensures that parents and school personnel have the training they need to spot warning signs and report incidents.”
Under the legislation, schools could adopt age-appropriate curriculum, train school personnel on child sexual abuse, and adopt policies concerning informing parents on the warning signs of abuse. Children are currently taught to beware “stranger danger” but not to identify abuse, especially on the part of a familiar person. Parents would be made aware of the curriculum and be able to “opt out” if they did not want their child involved.
For more about Erin’s story, visit her website at www.erinmerryn.net.
Editor’s Note – Audio comments about Erin’s Law by Sen. Proos and Sen. Emmons are available on the Senate Republican webpage at www.misenategop.com. Click on “Podcasts.”