Proos, Warren to introduce ‘Erin’s Law’

LANSING – Sens. John Proos and Rebekah Warren announced Thursday that they will be introducing legislation soon 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. My legislation would help end that cycle.”

This measure would allow 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.

“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 on 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.”

The bill would be called “Erin’s Law” and is named 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 Erin 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 passed, Michigan would join Illinois and Missouri in enacting Erin’s Law to protect children from sexual predators.

“Recent events around the country have highlighted the importance of increased awareness of child sexual abuse,” said Warren, D-Ann Arbor, another lead sponsor of the package. “This legislation will not only educate and encourage our children to speak up, but also ensures parents and school personnel have the training they need to spot warning signs and report incidents.”

Under the proposal, 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.

“As a father, I want to thank Erin Merryn for her bravery and her tireless leadership in support of abuse survivors,” Proos said. “I look forward to working with her to help Michigan children get the education and support they need to identify abuse and get help.”

Similar legislation has also been introduced in New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Indiana, Maine, Iowa and Massachusetts.