Governor appoints task force to carry out Proos’ initiative to stop child sexual abuse

LANSING—Gov. Rick Snyder recently appointed 15 experts from across Michigan to the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children that was created as part of the “Erin’s Law” initiative led by Sen. John Proos to help stop the sexual abuse of children.

“I sponsored Erin’s Law as a father, wanting to do all I can to protect every Michigan child from having to endure sexual abuse,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “It will help empower children and their peers through education and support so they can identify abuse and get help.

“This task force will take a critical and comprehensive review of state laws and school policies to ensure that we are doing everything possible and appropriate to protect Michigan kids.”

Public Acts 593-595 of 2012 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.

“I believe it is critical we educate kids that they have the right to say ‘no’ and that this is never their fault,” said Jamie Rossow, director of Berrien County Council for Children. “The current media attention on child sexual abuse just reinforces the fact that kids are afraid to tell and that adults are not being proactive in protecting kids.” 

PAs 593-595 allow school boards to adopt and implement policies addressing child sexual abuse. Schools can adopt age-appropriate curriculum, train school personnel on child sexual abuse, and adopt policies concerning informing parents on the warning signs of abuse. Parents will be made aware of the curriculum and be able to “opt out” if they do not want their child involved.

“Erin’s Law and this task force are part of an overall effort to make reporting abuse easier for children,” said Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic. “Far too many children interviewed, who disclose sexual abuse that has occurred over months or years, do not have the specific information needed to stand up to an abuser and say ‘no’ or know exactly how to and feel safe reporting the abuse.” 

Also part of the effort is the Children’s Assessment Center in St. Joseph, which is seeking to expand to meet growing needs. The center was started in 2002 by the nonprofit Berrien County Council for Children to help abused children by reducing the number of interviews a child goes through.

“The center provides invaluable services to children and their families at no cost,” Proos said. “Unfortunately, the number of children receiving services at the center has increased by more than 700 percent over the last dozen years. I encourage residents to support the center’s initiative to expand so they can continue to provide these important services.”

A $960,000 expansion effort has been announced that will more than double the center’s space. For more information on the plan and how to donate to the cause, visit www.berrienchild.org.

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Editor’s Note – Audio comments by Proos are available on the senator’s webpage at www.SenatorJohnProos.com. Click on “Audio” under the Media Center tab.

A print-quality version of the above photograph of Merryn and Proos testifying on Erin’s Law in 2012 is also available by visiting Proos’ website. Click on “Photowire” under the Media Center tab.