As of October 1, 2016, Connecticut’s school districts will begin implementing special sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness education throughout their K-12 grades. These measures include training staff members, coordinating with activist groups, and supplying educational materials.
The law, known popularly as Erin’s Law, is named after childhood sexual assault survivor and activist Errin Merryn. Merryn originally introduced the legislation in her home state of Illinois and it has since spread nationally. Connecticut is the 26th state to pass the law, and it is pending in 17 others.
The primary goal of the new sexual abuse law is to push public schools to implement prevention-oriented curriculum. Its popularity comes as a mounting amount of research suggests child sexual abuse is by no means a rare experience. Studies indicate that as many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys experience some level of sexual abuse before they turn 18. Furthermore, abuse is most often done by someone a child knows and trust, including family members and family friends. The new program is specifically aimed at breaking this cycle by teaching:
- Students from Kindergarten to 12th-grade age-appropriate techniques to recognize sexual abuse and comfortable. They will also learn comfortable terminology they can use to tell trusted adults and stop the abuse.
- All school personnel about child sexual abuse. This training includes how to recognize emotional, physical, and mental signs of abuse.
- Parents and guardians about those warning signs of child sexual abuse. The law also provides for extra assistance and referral information to support sexually abused children and their families.
There have been some concerns about elementary graders being too young for this type of information. However, advocates of Erin’s Law are quick to show its effectiveness. Just last month, an Illinois man was sentenced to 40 years after his victim told a teacher about the abuse following an Erin’s Law school presentation.
Reporting Until You Are Heard
Anyone who suspects, witnesses, or is told about sexual abuse, must follow the rule of reporting until they are heard. This includes continuing to report to higher authorities until appropriate action is taken. In situations where the child is in danger of being returned to the abuser, outcry witnesses should stay with the child, ensure they are safe, and call the police.