‘Erin’s Law’ to protect children from sexual abuse

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 10:28 am on Thursday, December 20, 2012

LANSING — Pending a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder, bipartisan legislature focused on a need to help protect children from sexual abuse will soon become Michigan law.

Legislation known as “Erin’s Law,” sponsored by Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, to help prevent the sexual abuse of children in Michigan, has been finalized by the legislature and sent to Snyder to be signed into law.

“Erin’s Law will help protect Michigan children from sexual abuse by increasing education and empowering survivors,” Emmons said. “Tragically, it is estimated that sexual abuse takes the innocence of childhood from 25 percent of girls and one of every seven boys, with survivors knowing their abuser more than 90 percent of the time. In many abuse cases survivors are afraid to come forward and Erin’s Law is about eliminating that fear and ending the abuse.”

Senate Bills 1112-1114 would require 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 to make recommendations on how to best prevent such abuse in Michigan.

Erin’s Law 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 has worked to make sure that children have age-appropriate education to recognize and talk about sexual abuse.

“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,” Merryn said. “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.”

Emmons said she was especially touched by the testimony of Oakland University basketball coach and sexual abuse survivor Beckie Francis, who broke her silence this year and was on hand when the bill passed through both the house and senate floors at 4 a.m. last Friday morning.

“(Francis) said she only told a very few close friends (of her abuse) in all of her years until the recent situation at Penn State University evolved,” Emmons said. “Last year she said she really started drumming on this issue because it personally affected her.”

Francis said she is in complete support of the legislation.

“I’m so grateful for Erin Merryn and all those who voted in favor of protecting kids,” Francis said. “I have no doubt that Erin’s Law will save so many kids. I feel like a kid who spoke out and you all listened.”

Under the bills, schools could adopt age-appropriate curriculum, train school personnel on child sexual abuse and adopt policies for informing parents on the warning signs of abuse. Parents would be made aware of the curriculum and be able to opt out if they do not want their child involved.

“As a mother and grandmother, I am proud of Erin for her courage and dedication in working to help parents and children get the tools and support they need to identify abuse and get help,” Emmons said. “My bill would help protect our children from sexual abuse and enable parents to make the ultimate decision about the appropriateness of sexual abuse instruction for their young child.”

Emmons, who sponsored the legislation along with Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, and Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, said her contribution to the legislation consisted mostly of educational components, including the portion providing the ability for parents to option their children out of the program.

“It helps children understand what’s appropriate touch, who you should go to and how to talk to someone about abuse,” she said. “For a child who has no one and doesn’t know what to do, it’s a pretty scary situation.”

Similar laws have been enacted in Indiana, Maine and Missouri and legislation has been introduced in several other states, including Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania. Senate Bills 1112-1114 will now head to Snyder for his signature.

“These bills are now heading to the governor’s desk, who is expected to sign them, and I am pleased about that,” Emmons said.

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