Bills seek to set lessons against sexual abuse

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Parents teach their children not to take candy from strangers, but out of embarrassment or squeamishness, some don’t warn them about the potential dangers of being molested, sometimes by people they know.

Bills filed in the Mississippi Legislature would require schools to teach young children how to protect themselves from sexual predators who might be strangers, acquaintances or relatives.

Sponsors said Monday that age-appropriate lessons would be given four times a year in kindergarten through fifth grade. Children would be taught the difference between an acceptable touch, such as a handshake or friendly hug, and a bad touch on private parts of their bodies. And they would be encouraged to tell a trusted adult if they’re being sexually abused.

House Bill 200 is filed by Democratic Rep. Tom Miles, of Forest, and awaits consideration in the House Education and Judiciary B committees. Senate Bill 2133 is filed by Republican Sen. Nancy Adams Collins, of Tupelo, and has been sent to two Senate committees: Education and Public Health. Feb. 5 is the deadline for committee consideration.

“Our goal is to put these sexual predators out of business in Mississippi,” Miles said.

He and Collins attended a Capitol news conference Monday with Erin Merryn, a 27-year-old Illinois woman who said she was molested by an adult neighbor when she was 6 to 8 years old and sexually abused by a cousin when she was 11 to 13 years old. She said both of the abusers threatened to harm her if she told others what was happening.

Merryn said children are taught about “stranger danger,” but they’re often not told that people who know them can harm them.

“These monsters live in our own backyards,” she said.

Miles and Collins said the proposed curriculum would be given to Mississippi schools at no cost, and parents who don’t want their children to take the lessons could sign a form to opt out.

“We’re trying to give children a voice, let them know they’re valuable,” Collins said.