Between the ages of 6 and 8, Erin Merryn was sexually abused and raped by an adult neighbor. She stayed silent because he threatened to harm her if she ever told anyone.
When the family moved to another community, Erin was sexually abused between ages 11 and 13 by an older teenage cousin who lived down the street. He, too, had threatened her if she told.
She didn’t know how to tell her secrets to the people she trusted most. So she kept them to herself, sharing them only with her diary.
Horrifically, Erin’s experiences are far from unique.
Every six minutes, a child is sexually abused in the U.S. By the time they turn 18, one in every four girls and one in every six boys will be sexually assaulted. Of those assaults, 90 percent are committed by a friend or family member.
Of all those cases, only one in 10 sexually abused children ever tell anyone.
Here in New York, the statewide central register hotline last year received about 297,000 calls related to child abuse cases, with about 199,000 of those flagged for further action.
If only 10 percent of abused kids are coming forward, then the true depth of the problem is much worse than the reporting statistics indicate.
These children need our help.
New York has taken a significant step to get justice for child sex abuse victims through the new Child Victims Act. The state must now carry that effort further by helping kids know what to do when they experience abuse.
As part of her life mission, Erin Merryn has pushed states to pass Erin’s Law, which would mandate that states require school children in grades K-8 be taught some kind of age-appropriate instruction on preventing sexual abuse.
Earlier this year, New York joined with 36 other states in passing an Erin’s Law bill (A2577B/S4070B), but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to sign it.
The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act allows states to use federal grant funding for Erin’s Law programs.
New York would develop its own curriculum, but has plenty of resources already in place from which to draw.
In the Hillsboro school district in Hillsboro, Ore., for example, the program for grades Pre-K through Grade 3 focuses on personal body safety, identification of inappropriate touching and safety steps. Grades 4 and 5 focuses on communication and trust and how kids can tell others about inappropriate conduct. Grade 6 focuses on empowerment, Grade 7 on respect and Grade 8 on unhealthy relationships. At each grade level, the concepts become more complex and the actions more defined.
It’s already too late to put Erin’s Law into practice for the upcoming school year in New York. That’s a shame.
Gov. Cuomo should sign this legislation now so state educators and health professionals can get the curriculum in place for the 2020-2021 school year.