Georgia the latest state to adopt child sex abuse awareness ed
(Ga.) From pre-K through ninth grade, Georgia students will now learn about the signs of sex abuse and how to report it under legislation signed last week by Gov. Nathan Deal.
The bill was based on model legislation called “Erin's Law,” named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois woman who was sexually abused as a child and has pushed state legislatures across the country to pass their own versions of the bill.
Merryn, who has worked with lawmakers to pass the bill in 35 states, said that one of the most common concerns from parents about the sexual abuse awareness program is that children targeted by the bill are too young for sex education.
“This is not sex education,” Merryn, who attended the bill signing, told local reporters. “This is teaching kids personal body safety–so the difference between safe and unsafe touching, safe and unsafe secrets, that when it comes to the areas covered by your swimsuit, nobody touches you there unless mommy or daddy are helping bathe you or are changing your little brother, for example.”
While obviously a sensitive topic, lawmakers and child advocates argue that those discussions are vitally important to have with children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2013 there were nearly 61,000 reported cases of child sexual abuse, with 306 in Georgia. Experts note that it is difficult to know how many victims are out there, however, as many more instances are believed to go unreported.
As a response, 35 states including Alaska, Texas, Michigan, California, Maine, Arkansas, Mississippi, Washington State, Pennsylvania, Colorado and North Dakota, have now passed legislation requiring instruction aimed at helping children understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching, and how to tell an adult if something happens.
Georgia Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, said during legislative hearings that he was moved to carry the bill after watching two women testify in the criminal trial against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar that their parents didn’t believe them when they disclosed what had happened.
Cantrell’s bill was ultimately incorporated into SB 401, which was signed last week. His was one of several pieces of legislation targeting child sexual abuse that had been introduced this legislative session.
Though neither made it to the governor’s desk, HB 655 would have required schools to post signs with phone numbers where child abuse can be reported, and HB 32 would have prohibited sexual contact between all employees at a school and the students there, including those over the age of consent. Currently, teachers and administrators can legally have sexual contact with students age 16 or older at the same school in which they work.
Among other provisions, SB 401 requires schools have annual age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education from kindergarten through ninth grade. The bill also calls for professional development to include programs on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention.
The bill, which received support from various child advocate groups as well as the Georgia Department of Education, doesn’t provide funding to help schools implement these changes.