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Alaska becomes 26th state to pass Erin's Law

Alaska becomes 26th state to pass Erin's Law

After a tough fight and the state's Governor and First Lady called for it's passage, Alaska became the 26th state to pass a version of Erin's Law in June, 2015. A bill for the law has also been proposed in 17 more states. Only 7 states have not introduced it.
People Magazine: Erin 1 of 15 Women Changing World
People Magazine named Erin Merryn as one of its "15 Amazing Women Changing the World" in its June, 2014, issue for her nationwide visionary work protecting children from sexual abuse. Others included Oprah, Angelina Jolie and Angela Merkel.  
Erin Merryn named a Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine
Erin Merryn was presented with a Glamour Magazine "2012 Woman of the Year" award for her work protecting children from sexual abuse at Carnegie Hall Nov. 12, 2012, by actress Julianna Margulies, star of CBS-TV's "The Good Wife."
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Aaron Jansen illustration

Aaron Jansen illustration

Carey Restino The Arctic Sounder
July 18, 2015

I had a conversation with my 7-year-old daughter the other night on one of those long drives that Alaska life is filled with. I decided it was time to talk about what is OK and what isn’t when it comes to other people and your body. It’s not a topic that any parent wants to bring up, really. We’d like to think that our little boys and girls will live in a bubble, and will never face any type of aggressive behavior, let alone someone trying to abuse them. But that’s not what the statistics show. So, I took a deep breath.

“So, do you know there are places other people shouldn’t touch you?”

“Yes!”

“OK, good, so what do you do if someone tries to do that?”

“Run away!”

“That’s good. What if you can’t run away?”

Silence.

“Is it OK to shout at them?”

“Nooooo.”

“YES! You can shout at them as loud as you want! Tell them to stop as loud as you want!”

“Ohhhh.”

“And is it OK to hit them?”

“Oh, nooooo. It’s never OK to hit.”

“YES you can! If they don’t stop, you can hit them anywhere you want, especially places you know will hurt! And then run away as soon as you can!”

She grinned.

“Really?”

“Yes! But is it OK to hit a friend at school who gives you a hug because you are sad?”

“No?”

“That’s right.”

It’s the beginning of a much bigger conversation, one that we’ll have every year for a long time. But the simple fact that her body is hers and she has the right to protect it was not intuitive. And if she faced that situation, even armed with the knowledge she now has, she might not be able to fight back for many reasons. But hopefully, just feeling empowered will help make her less vulnerable.

That’s why the passage this week of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act is so important. The act is the beginning of a conversation between teachers and students about sexual assault, teen dating, teen dating violence and youth suicide, all topics that can be uncomfortable to talk about and completely off the table in many families.

But across the state of Alaska, starting in middle school, students will learn these important subjects on an age-appropriate level. Like the simple conversation with my daughter, educating children about what is OK and what isn’t helps them stand up for themselves. And while we may think the knowledge that there are people who might want to hurt them will scare them, knowledge is power. If delivered properly, these messages may save some of these children from a lifetime trying to recover.

Some legislators balked at the cost of these programs. Thank goodness that argument didn’t hold water in the eyes of the majority. Children who have been harmed in those ways more often than not need help for a long time afterward, help that often costs quite a bit. If they don’t get that help, the result is frequently worse, even, both for them, and for the greater public good. In Alaska, where statistics for sexual assault, domestic violence and child assault are alarming, we should be paying closer attention than anywhere else. We also have extremely high rates of suicide, especially among our young people. Coincidence? I think not.

It is time we started talking about these issues. Perhaps not everyone thinks it is appropriate to have a conversation with your young daughter about ways she can protect herself from predators. But we must begin conversations about these things all across the state. We must stop turning away from the uncomfortable nature of sexual assault and abuse, and must stop accepting domestic violence. Erin’s Law and the Alaska Safe Children’s Act is a first step in that direction. Let’s hope it is the beginning of a path of healing for all of us.

Carey Restino is the editor of Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman and The Arctic Sounder, where this commentary first appeared.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Mass) and Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV) introduced the Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act July 15, legislation to protect children from sexual abuse.

The proposed legislation funds school programs that provide age-appropriate lessons to primary and secondary school students on how to recognize and safely report sexual abuse.

The Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act provides federal funding to develop, implement or expand these programs for students, teachers, and guardians.

The bill was inspired by childhood sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn, after whom Erin’s Law was named. Thus far 26 states have passed Erin’s Law. Eighteen more states have proposed the law.

Alaska signed law

 

Alaskasigned

 

Trigger warning!

Tonight I watched on facetime Governor Walker of Alaska sign Erin’s Law making it the 25th state.  I love technology and what you can do these days. I felt like I was right there. Alaska was one of the hardest states to get it passed in.  I spent a week there last year testifying on it and the bill died and had to be reintroduced this year only for session to run out and Governor Walker call a special session for Erin’s Law and the budget. Governor Walker and his wife are huge supporters of this law. I have reached the half way point 5 years later. Now just waiting for the Governor of Alabama to sign Erin’s Law where it recently passed leaving 24 states to go.

Many people do not understand where I get this passion and determination to pass this law successfully now in 26 states. I have been at it for 5 years now testifying from one state capital to another and nothing is going to stop me from reaching the 50th state to pass Erin’s Law.

I found my voice 17 years ago when I was 13 years old and broke my silence about my sexual abuse. By the time I found my voice I had already been sodomized, raped, and sexually abused for more than five years of my childhood beginning at the age of 6. If I had a video footage of my abuse to play for these legislators in each state it would give them nightmares for a very long time. Instead I have to tell them through the vivid memories I have in my own words to get them to understand the trauma I endured as a child.

Healing from child sexual abuse is a lifelong process.  It never goes away. The saying, “time heals all wounds,” I don’t agree with.  Time has nothing to do with healing.  It has been more than 20 years since I found myself locked in my best friend’s bedroom with her uncle holding me down on a bed. 20 years later I can remember it all as if it happened last week. Pleading with an evil man to not hurt me then begging for my life as I thought he was killing me as he raped and then sodomized me more than once. I remember that piercing pain as if he was stabbing me with a knife. All I could do was scream.  It is the closest thing I will ever get to being in Hell. My almost 7 year old mind could not comprehend why he was hurting me. What did I do to deserve this? I can still see the sweat pouring down his face and the blood in my underwear that made me terrified I was dying. Those final words to me that day from him were to keep it a secret or he would come get me. So that is what I did, I kept it a secret and that is what my childhood became. A life of keeping secrets because it wasn’t the last man I would be keeping secrets with.

When my cousin began abusing me at age 11 I soon found myself being threatened not to tell anyone. Over and over I would hear no one will believe you, this is our secret, you have no proof, and you will destroy our family. I can remember each and every one of those days crystal clear when he abused me. Down to the very words he said. Being trapped in the bathroom with him assaulting me, his parents walk in closet, in his closet, on his bed, in the basement, garage, even just standing there in the living room as he came up from behind me and told me not to move as he abused me. Many of the times in the homes of other relatives. The worst was the last time he would ever touch me. That was a night of so much fear and pain being chased through his home with only him, me, and two sleeping young children there. If you have ever seen a horror movie of someone being chased in a house by the bad guy in the movie this is exactly what I was experiencing.  I was living my own horror movie. However in the movies they get away from the bad guy in my reality that wasn’t the case. I spent two hours locked in a bedroom with my cousin on top of me. I fought hard and eventually grew exhausted and the only thing I had left in me was to cry. When it was all done he simply looked at me like he had done so many times before and said, “Don’t tell anyone. No one will believe you if you do.” I remember seeing him disappear down the hallway and wiping away my tears hoping my aunt wouldn’t ask me what was wrong but of course she did. I lied and told her I fell asleep and woke up and rubbed my eyes.

My passion and determination to pass Erin’s Law and give kids a voice on how to speak up and tell comes from the pain I suffered and memories I now live with. I want no child to have to experience that and carry it with them the rest of their lives. So I will continue to use my voice, retell the days my innocence was killed, until every state will ensure children will get the education I never received.

As I continue down my own path of healing I want to heal this world and make it a better place just as I sang as an 8 year old in the green shirt in  this video below.

Help me make it a better place. Contact your legislators to pass Erin’s Law if it hasn’t already passed in your state.

capitol DC

WASHINGTON D.C. – Such EXCITING news to share! My biggest battle the past 5 years getting Erin’s Law passed in each state is that it is an unfunded mandate. Well, that is about to change.

A FEDERAL bill has been introduced – with bipartisan support by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – that will FUND Erin’s Law in EVERY state!

This is an answer to my PRAYERS! You have no idea how EXCITED I am and what this means. I can’t being to tell you how many times I have heard from legislators, “Who is going to fund this? We don’t money for this in the budget? This is an unfunded mandate? etc.”

What this will mean if this bill passes is there will be funds (millions) that schools can use to pay for prevention educators to come in and teach Erin’s Law, purchase curriculum, etc. It will cost the schools NOTHING if this federal bill passes. The bill already has strong support from the US Senate Education Committee. Will keep everyone updated as bill is voted on.

This is the press release that just went out an hour ago.

U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today introduced bipartisan legislation to help protect children from sexual abuse by funding school programs that provide age-appropriate lessons to primary and secondary school students on how to recognize and safely report sexual abuse. Twenty-six states have passed a version of “Erin’s Law,” legislation that requires public schools to provide child sexual abuse prevention education to students and professional development for school personnel. Gillibrand, Heller and Feinstein’s Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act provides federal funding for schools to develop and implement or expand these programs for students, parents and guardians. 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.

“Our children need to have an age-appropriate understanding of sexual abuse and know how to safely report to an adult if they have been victimized,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Erin’s Law is helping to fill an important gap in our prevention and awareness work, and the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act will make sure schools have the resources needed to develop or expand these programs and provide parents, guardians and school personnel with the tools to help prevent and respond to child sexual abuse.”

“As a father of four children, I know parents want to protect their children and provide the safest possible learning environment for them,” said Senator Heller. “This legislation equips local school districts with the resources they need to develop or enhance child sexual abuse awareness and prevention efforts. Providing parents and children with the information to recognize child sexual abuse is a key weapon in stopping these heinous crimes. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with my colleague, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, to ensure states, like Nevada, have the tools to help stop child sexual abuse.”

“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.”

“When it comes to stopping sexual violence and ensuring its victims get the help they need and deserve, knowledge is power,” Scott Berkowitz, RAINN Founder and President. “This legislation will help educators learn to spot abuse and will help kids recognize when it happens to them and empower them to reach out for help. We are grateful for the leadership of Sens. Gillibrand, Heller and Feinstein and for survivors like Erin Merryn, who bravely step forward and remind us all that while we’ve made tremendous strides, our work is far from done. We look forward to working with Congress to pass this law to address sexual violence and protect America’s children.”

“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. Research has consistently shown that educational programs designed to prevent child sexual abuse are effective at teaching children skills to identify dangerous situations and prevent abuse. 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 Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act provides additional funding to advance Erin’s Law. Erin’s Law requires all public schools in states 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. Gillibrand, Heller and Feinstein’s legislation serves as a complement to the Helping Our Schools Protect Our Children Act, allowing states and school districts to use federal grants to provide professional development to school personnel regarding how to recognize child sexual abuse. These personnel include: teachers, principals, specialized instructional support personnel, and paraprofessionals.”

Erin Alaska interview

 

(KTOO Public Media)-The Alaska Legislature has passed the Alaska Safe Children’s Act nearly unanimously.

The bill requires schools to provide age-appropriate education meant to prevent harm to children. The section known nationally as “Erin’s Law” teaches students about sexual abuse and lets them know there are resources if someone is hurting them. The second major component focuses on dating violence, and is being called “Bree’s Law.” It is named after Breanna Moore, who was killed last year. Her boyfriend is scheduled to be tried for the murder later this summer.

Over the course of its review, the bill was changed substantially from the original, and became a controversial vehicle for unrelated bills having to do with standardized testing and school contracts with Planned Parenthood.

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