As Sex-Abuse Education Becomes Law in Illinois, Advocates Push for Similar Laws Nationwide
Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law, which advocates hope to enact in every state, that extends mandates for child sex-abuse education into elementary and middle schools.
By Sally Ho
After watching Gov. Pat Quinn sign into law a new mandate for child sex-abuse education in Illinois schools, the woman behind that measure will be hitting the road to push the cause nationwide.
On Thursday, Quinn signed "Erin's Law" at the Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County in Hoffman Estates. That's where, 14 years ago, a then-13-year-old Erin Merryn first spoke up about sexual abuse she had endured.
"You do not know how joyous this is for me, how hard I've worked for this," Merryn said of the law, which extends state-mandated sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention efforts to elementary and middle schools. Previously, only high schools were required to teach it.
Although it's an unfunded mandate, Merryn, 27, said the law lets school districts decide how to implement it. Districts can choose either to use and pay for existing research-based curriculum, or train teachers on how to educate their students.
"Schools don't just need to hire someone to come in (from) outside the school," Merryn said. "You've got the staff right there that you already pay that are capable of teaching this, with the proper training."
Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said "Erin's Law" is the first unfunded school mandate in two years. Crespo, vice-chair for the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said unfunded mandates are always a concern and an issue.
"We're very convinced we just need to make this happen," Crespo said. "We have other unfunded mandates. Somehow the school districts do manage a way to do those things."
With children as young as preschoolers, the education will be tailored for age appropriateness, Merryn said. For some, it could be as simple as teaching them to whom they could turn if they feel uncomfortable.
Lawmakers at the event praised Merryn for having the courage to quit her job as a youth and family counselor in 2010 to take on a national awareness campaign. Merryn became devoted to the cause after being sexually abused as a child between the ages 6 to 8, and again from age 11 to 13.
Merryn's campaign also focuses on support for child advocacy centers, ending stigma about sex abuse and reminding adults to be aware and to act.
At the bill signing, Quinn invited Merryn to a national governor's meeting next month. The Schaumburg native and author is working to get similar laws passed in all 50 states. It took Merryn three years to get the Illinois state law passed. She had tears in her eyes as she accepted Quinn's invitation, saying: "You will save me many, many years."
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