Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today announced that the Senate passed key provisions from their bipartisan legislation to help protect children from sexual abuse by funding school programs that provide age-appropriate lessons to primary and secondary school students, as well as information to parents, guardians, and teachers, on how to recognize and safely report sexual abuse. These provisions, based on the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act and the Helping Our Schools Protect Our Children Act, were included in the bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act. It passed the Senate today by a margin of 85-12.
Twenty-six states have passed a version of “Erin’s Law,” legislation that encourages or requires public schools to provide child sexual abuse prevention education to students, information to parents and guardians, and professional development for school personnel. The Every Student Succeeds Act passed today includes provisions championed by Gillibrand, Heller and Feinstein that enable school districts to use federal grant funding to develop and implement these programs for students, parents and guardians, teachers, and other school personnel. In 2013, there were a total of 60,956 instances of child sexual abuse reported to Child Protective Services agencies in the U.S. However, this estimate only represents cases of child sexual abuse reported to and confirmed by child protection authorities. Many such cases are never reported to welfare or legal systems.
“The Senate has recognized the critical importance of teaching our children an age-appropriate understanding of sexual abuse – both how to recognize it and how to safely report it,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Funding for Erin’s Law programs will give schools the resources they need to teach children these necessary safety skills. It fills an important gap in our prevention and awareness work, and it will help make sure that schools are able to provide parents, guardians, and school personnel with the tools they need to help prevent and respond to child sexual abuse.”
“As a father, grandfather, and an outspoken advocate on behalf of the safety and well-being of our nation’s children, I am extremely grateful that fundamental provisions of the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act are now headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Our legislation helps protect America’s students by providing local school districts with resources to develop or enhance child sexual abuse awareness and prevention efforts,” said Senator Dean Heller. “Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up in an environment free from abuse, which is why I am proud to work with Senators Gillibrand and Feinstein on this important issue.”
“Sexual abuse can scar children for life and we must do everything we can to prevent it,” said Senator Feinstein. “Children are more likely to heal if abuse is detected early, which is why we must ensure they are taught what to do if they are being abused and school personnel are trained to spot the warning signs.”
“For five years I have been traveling from one state capital to another trying to pass Erin’s law in my mission of all fifty states requiring that personal body safety be taught,” said Erin Merryn, Erin’s Law Founder and President. “The biggest hurdle I face in each state is Erin’s law being an unfunded mandate. It is my biggest road block. With this bill passing it will play a significant role in Erin’s law getting passed in the next 24 states. This funding will be an answer to my prayers in my biggest battle for Erin’s law. Kids’ lives are waiting to be saved and we must educate them. I didn’t have a voice but I am going to ensure every child in America has theirs.”
“No child or parent should bear the pain of these unconscionable crimes,” said Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy. “We are grateful to Congress for authorizing the use of federal dollars to support the creation and implementation of programs that will help stop childhood sexual abusers in their tracks and support those who are victimized.”
Twenty-six states across the country have passed a version of Erin’s Law, named after childhood sexual assault survivor and advocate Erin Merryn. Erin’s Law emphasizes the importance of educational programs that help prevent sexual abuse by using age-appropriate techniques to instruct children on how to recognize and report sexual abuse. Studies have shown that educational programs designed to prevent child sexual abuse are effective at teaching children skills to identify and avoid dangerous situations. Such programs have also shown to be effective at promoting disclosure and reducing self-blame by victims. Two other critical aspects of Erin’s Law include professional development for school personnel and information for parents and guardians in how to recognize signs of child sexual abuse, talk to children about child sexual abuse, and how to respond when a child discloses sexual abuse.
The Every Student Succeeds Act provides school districts with the ability to use federal grant funding to implement Erin’s Law programs. State legislation known as Erin’s Law encourages or requires public schools to implement prevention-oriented child sexual abuse programs. The programs established through the federal grants can be developed in partnership with community-based services and non-profit organizations with expertise in child sexual abuse prevention or response. The initiatives can be designed to include topics on how to recognize child sexual abuse, how to safely report child sexual abuse and how to discuss child sexual abuse with children.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult. The same study found that the total estimate of child sexual abuse was 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 20 boys; this estimate includes sexual abuse at the hands of juvenile perpetrators.
Funding for Erin’s Law programs passed the Senate as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act on December 9, 2015, by a vote of 85-12. It now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law.