A group of state lawmakers and a national advocate spoke Friday in favor of passage of a bill known as “Erin’s Law,” which requires that school children be taught to report sexual abuse by adults.
The law, which has been passed in 11 states and is being considered in 26 others, gets its name from Erin Merryn, a child abuse prevention advocate, who was sexually abused as a child. Merryn joined lawmakers Friday at a Hartford press conference in support of the bill, which she said is designed to empower kids, who may not know they can report abuse.
“The same way we teach kids in school ‘stranger-danger,’ ‘don’t go look for the lost puppy,’ we teach kids bully intervention . . . we do tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills. How about the eight ways to say no to drugs through DARE? We give kids all this important information but the one message we fail to teach kids is how to speak up and tell if they’re being abused,” she said.
Merryn said she was sexually abused by a neighbor when she was between the ages of six and eight. She was abused again by a family member when she was between 11 and 13.
“The only message I got as a child was, ‘This is our little secret. No one will believe you. If you tell anybody, I’ll come get you.’ Well my goal is to give kids that voice I didn’t have as a child so that we can put these perpetrators out of business,” she said.
The bill would mandate “age appropriate” education programs in Connecticut’s public schools during grades two through five. A fiscal note on the bill anticipates minimal costs for schools. The expenses will likely be less than $500 for making educational materials.
This year’s bill has already been approved by the Children’s Committee. The panel’s co-chairwoman, Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, said most everyone likely knows someone who was impacted by child sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
“It is something that is often covered up for shame of the victims and what we need to get across to our children is that if you are a victim there is no shame in that. It is not your fault, it has been perpetrated upon you. We need to empower children to know what to do in that situation,” she said.
Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation, said she had a family member who was abused at the age of 12. She said the incident had a “dramatic impact” on her family.
The Osten raised a similar bill last year, which passed the Senate and came very close to being approved by the House. She said it was the very last piece of legislation to be raised for a vote in the chamber during the hectic final seconds before the midnight deadline of last year’s session.
“It was about 30 seconds before the end of the session and it just didn’t make it. It was a long, long session last year with a lot that happened on the last couple days,” she said.
Osten said there was no active opposition to the legislation last year. When this year’s bill received a public hearing last month, no one submitted testimony in opposition to it. Merryn, who is now 29 years old and travels the country advocating for such legislation, said she does not see why anyone would oppose the policy.
“Honestly, I think the only ones who should be against this bill are the sex offenders themselves,” she said.