Alaska legislature forwards Erin’s Law

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testifies in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, also known as Erin's Law. Rep. Geran Tarr is the  bill sponsor. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testifies in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, also known as Erin’s Law. Rep. Geran Tarr is the bill sponsor. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

House Bill 233, also known as Erin’s Law, would require school districts to implement sexual abuse education to public school students. It passed its first hurdle in the Alaska State Legislature Friday.

In another part of the country, the effects of sexual abuse education in schools is already being seen.

After Erin Merryn, the woman behind Erin’s Law, spoke to middle and high school students during a school assembly in Scott City, Kan., last year, five students came forward and disclosed they were victims of sexual abuse.

“Couple of the kids said, ‘Oh my gosh, it was like she was standing up there telling my story,’” said Kelly Robbins, executive director of the Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center. She was at Merryn’s talk.

“We saw the impact of having this knowledge, this education and really bringing it out of the closet. It’s OK to talk about this stuff and it’s OK to tell. As she says, she found her voice. Well, she gave voice to at least five kids,” Robbins said.

Erin’s Law is a bill requiring school districts to implement sexual abuse education to public school students.

After Merryn’s visit to Scott City, sexual abuse education is now being taught in its middle school. But it isn’t required in all Kansas schools, because Kansas hasn’t passed Erin’s Law.

Robbins still hopes it will. She says she couldn’t believe the effect Merryn had on the students in just one hour. And that’s what Merryn is asking for in her law – 1 to 2 hours of sexual abuse education being taught in classrooms every year.

During its first committee hearing in the Alaska State Legislature, Merryn testified before the House Education Committee about her own experience with sexual abuse as a young child.

“Did I have the language to go home and tell my mom as that little 6-year-old what this man had done? No, I didn’t. I didn’t know how to speak up and tell and explain to her or my father what had happened. So I kept it a secret,” she said.

If students aren’t taught in school how to speak up about sexual abuse, Merryn said all they’re left with are messages from offenders to stay silent.

“There are people in the schools where it will cost nothing to educate kids. You have here in Alaska your health teachers. I spoke with the superintendent when I arrived in Anchorage and they’ve been doing this for 15 years in numerous of their schools. The health educators, who are already salaried positions, coming in and teaching the kids this,” Merryn said.

With support from the Department of Education and Early Development, members in the House Education Committee praised Erin’s Law. Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux said the bill is a step in the right direction.

“Kids are taught all the time – beware of strangers, don’t get candy from strangers. And yet, most of this happens within the family and with people that they know. It’s not the boogey man coming out in the middle of the night. It’s somebody that you think is your friend. So I definitely support this bill,” LeDoux said.

Erin’s Law, sponsored by Anchorage Democrat Rep. Geran Tarr, has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

Alaska would be 13th state to adopt Erin’s Law.