Bipartisan ‘Erin’s Law’ sent to governor

LANSING—Legislation sponsored by Sens. John Proos, Judy Emmons and Rebekah Warren to increase education and training in an effort to help prevent the sexual abuse of children in Michigan was finalized by the Legislature on Friday and sent to the governor to be signed.

“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. Erin’s Law is about helping to end that cycle through education and empowerment.”

The legislation is 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.

“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,” said Merryn, whose mother grew up in Paw Paw. “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.”

Oakland University basketball coach and sexual abuse survivor Beckie Francis supported the legislation.

“I’m so grateful for Senator Proos, Erin Merryn and all those who voted in favor of protecting kids,” said Francis, who broke her silence earlier this year. “I have no doubt that Erin’s Law will save so many kids. I feel like a kid who spoke out and you all listened!”

Senate Bills 1112-1114 require school boards to adopt and implement policies addressing child sexual abuse and 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.

“As a mother and grandmother, I am proud of 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. “In many abuse cases survivors are afraid to come forward, and Erin’s Law is about eliminating that fear and ending the abuse.”

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.

“Child sexual abuse is a critical issue affecting far too many innocent children throughout our state,” said Warren, D-Ann Arbor. “I take great pride in sponsoring this important legislation that will provide children, parents and school personnel with the essential tools they need to speak up, spot warning signs and report incidents of child sexual abuse.”

Under SBs 1112-1114, 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. 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.

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