Erin’s Law is a friend to children

Every state should pass it. It’s the right thing to do.

In a country that works to assure that there is “…liberty and justice for all…” at times it would appear that the “all” is missing in some aspects of American culture.

Human trafficking brings out the worst of humanity, not only from a criminal element, but from a judicial and legislative element. Mother’s aren’t getting the support they need from law enforcement and legislator to protect their children from abusers; systems such as the Department of Children and Families that are established to protect the children have a high ratio of complicity in crimes committed against them. Even our judicial systems are complicit in covering up and protecting those who are involved in abuse such as colleagues or those who sit in the upper echelons of our societies from local to state, to national levels.

In the article “The Military’s Child Porn Problem” there are some staggering cases the reader just might want to take a look at. Bryon Bender, of The Boston Globe, first reported, in 2011, that up to 5,200 Pentagon employees, many with top clearances, were downloading child porn on Pentagon computers. Many were using their .mil email accounts and paying with credit cards in their own names. This brazenness indicates a culture that tolerates, perhaps even encourages, use of child porn on America’s most sensitive computer networks.

You might ask what child porn has to do with child sex abuse? Ask any of the victims now finding their voice after decades of silence. Jerome Elam, Alan Fountain, Dawn Worswick, and Erin Merryn are among the thousands if not millions of children silenced by their abusers. In recent years, they have found their voices and are educating America on the terrors that they had lived mutely with, some for decades. There will be no more silence for these precious ones. They are rising with a courage that will not be stopped. And we must join them and lend what we have to engage in the battle to save the next generation of children from experiencing their nightmares.

There are always shining lights that emerge in the darkness to force societies to take note of gross injustice. If we can’t stop it at the higher levels in our government we can at least stop it by educating and empowering our children to regain their voice.

Erin Merryn’s child sex abuse began at the tender age of six and continuing until she was thirteen. She shares her harrowing story of abuse and how it started. “When a grown man I knew lay on top of me at 6 ½ years old and threatened to tie me to a bed if I did not lay still and be quiet as he raped me, or when my teenage cousin locked me behind closed doors and warned me, this is our little secret, no one will believe you, this will destroy our family as he sexually abused me on a bed, I stayed silent and lived in that silence alone. I was confused and scared. My body seemed to belong to the men that used and abused it and that was the message I learned because I was getting no other message.”

Erin states, “Growing up in Illinois public schools every year I was educated with my classmates on tornado drills, fire drills, stranger danger, and learned the 8 ways to say “NO” to drugs through D.A.R.E. As a child I never had to take cover because of a real tornado. I never had to stop, drop, and roll or run out of a burning building. I never had to evacuate a school bus due to an emergency, but I had the knowledge to know what to do if any of those situations happened.” She continues with these profound yet no-brainer questions when speaking to Pennsylvania legislators, “Where was the drill on how to escape a child molester? Where was the lesson plan on sexual abuse, safe/unsafe touches, and safe/unsafe secrets?” Erin continues, “I was not educated on “How to Tell Today or How to Get Away.” I was never educated on “My Body Belongs to Me,” the critically acclaimed book by New York City child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor Jill Starishevsky.

Erin’s Law passed in the Illinois Senate in May 2010 and the House in November 2010, and the first version was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn February 2011. It created the task force to study what needs to be taught and how it would be done. The second version of Erin’s Law requiring all Illinois public schools to teach sexual abuse prevention was signed by Gov. Quinn Jan 24 2013.

The mission of Erin’s law is to get education in all 50 states on the prevention of sexual abuse by empowering children with their voices instead of allowing sex offenders to silence them.

With respect to the renewal of a Standard Teaching Certificate, Erin’s Law provides that continuing professional development activities may include participating in or presenting at an in-service training program on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention. The law provides that the Comprehensive Health Education Program requires age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in grades Pre-kindergarten through 12 along with training school staff on the prevention of sexual abuse.

19 states have passed the law as of September 2014. 18 more states are introducing Erin’s Law 2014-2015.

We can end this atrocity by reaching our children. The National Educators to Stop Trafficking (NEST) has a vision / mission that aligns with Erin’s, which is to reach all 50 states with prevention curriculum for grades 1-12 in order to end sexual exploitation of America’s children. This on-line warehouse of educational material has nearly 50 curriculum and resources for grades 1 – 12 that are age appropriate and written as human trafficking prevention education. Among the most vulnerable are children and youth that have been sexually abused as children.

If we can impede this activity, we can prevent them from being victimized by traffickers. We must empower and equip children and youth with the knowledge and skills to stand up against sexual exploitation and abuse. If we can’t (won’t in some cases) stop the abusers, we can at least work to create a culture that supports a world free of gender-based violence. We must get this education into the schools across America. There is no age too young to educate in age appropriate ways that they understand. Children are smart and will know what to do if we just tell them.

Is America up for this challenge? Will we make a smart decision to support this critical issue and collectively work to bring the next generation into the future as the empowered generation with a voice? Our children and our grandchildren are depending on us like never before. We can’t let them down.