LANSING – Sens. John Proos introduced legislation known as “Erin’s Law” on Wednesday in the state Senate to help prevent the sexual abuse of children in Michigan.
“My legislation is about protecting Michigan children and preserving the innocence of childhood, which is supported to be a time when a child can learn and play – free of the dark realities of adulthood, such as sexual abuse,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “Unfortunately, many children have this innocence stolen. One of every four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused by age 18, and in more than 90 percent of these cases, they know their abuser.”
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, made up of legislators, state officials and experts to make recommendations on changes to Michigan laws.
Retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver, chair of the governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, said: “The task force is grateful Senators Proos, Emmons and Warren are concerned about the prevention of the sexual abuse of children and the task force will be reviewing the proposed legislation.”
The bipartisan measures are named “Erin’s Law” 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 made it her mission to try to ensure that children have the age-appropriate education to recognize and talk about sexual abuse.
“As a child I was educated in school on tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, stranger danger and drugs, but when I was sexually abused, I listened to the only message I was being given – and that came from my abusers to stay silent,” said Merryn. “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. 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.”
If the bills are passed and signed, Michigan would join Illinois, Indiana and Missouri in enacting Erin’s Law to protect children from sexual predators. Similar legislation has also been introduced in New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Maine, Iowa and Massachusetts.
“I believe it is critical we educate kids that they have the right to say ‘no’ and that this is never their fault,” said Jamie Rossow, director of Berrien County Council on Children. “The current media attention on child sexual abuse just reinforces the fact that kids are afraid to tell and that adults are not being proactive in protecting kids.”
Under the legislation, schools could adopt age-appropriate curriculum, train school personnel on child sexual abuse, and adopt policies concerning informing parents on the warning signs of abuse. Children are currently taught to beware “stranger danger” but not to identify abuse, especially on the part of a familiar person. Parents would be made aware of the curriculum and be able to “opt out” if they did not want their child involved.
“As a father, I want to thank Erin Merryn for her bravery and her tireless leadership in support of abuse survivors,” Proos said. “I look forward to working with her to help Michigan children get the education and support they need to identify abuse and get help.”
The sponsors of the companion measures in the package are Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor.
For more about Erin’s story, visit her website at www.erinmerryn.net.
Editor’s Note – Audio comments by Sen. Proos are available on the senator’s webpage at www.SenatorJohnProos.com. Click on “Podcasts.”