Sex abuse education bill to be introduced

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A law aimed at educating Mississippi’s children on identifying and reporting sexual abuse will be introduced into the Mississippi House and Senate during the 2013 legislative session.
The law, Erin’s Law, was inspired and spearheaded by Erin Merryn, who has used her own story to help bring up a conversation about sexual abuse in America.
Merryn spoke at Tupelo’s Families and Communities Together Conference at First Baptist Church in Tupelo on Tuesday morning, encouraging the audience to push elected officials to pass the law and to talk to children about safe and unsafe touching.
Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, and Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest, will introduce the bill in their respective chambers in the following session.
The model legislation passed in Illinois requires a task force to gather information concerning child sexual abuse in the state, take reports and testimony, create goals for policy that would prevent child sexual abuse and then submit a final report to the Legislature.
The program in schools would focus on increasing teacher, student and parent awareness of issues regarding sexual abuse, talk about actions a child who is a victim can take to get assistance and intervention and point out available counseling options for students affected by sexual abuse.
Merryn said the focus is on age-appropriate education and many organizations already receive federal grants to teach about sexual abuse in schools.
The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence says one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday and the Crimes Against Children Research Center Shows 93 percent of those cases are abuse from someone they know and trust. “Only seven percent of the time is it stranger danger,” Merryn said.
Merryn spoke about being sexually abused as a child by an authority figure and a family member and not knowing how to tell anyone due to shame and fear of being in trouble. She has used her experiences and books about them as a platform for change.
“We learn tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, stranger danger, Mr. McGruff, bully intervention, Internet safety – I have my D.A.R.E. graduation card – but what’s missing?” Merryn asked Tuesday morning. “I never had to duck and cover or run out of a burning building but I didn’t have the words to explain what happened to me. I didn’t have a tell, tell, tell drill.”
She tells her story in the books “Stolen Innocence” and “Living for Today.”
jb.clark@journalinc.com