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'Erin's Law' faces hurdles to passing in New York state

NYS Senate
File Photo
Erin Merryn is pushing for sexual abuse education in schools, but is facing opposition in New York.

For the third year in a row, the New York State Senate passed "Erin's Law," a bill requiring schools to teach age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness to children in pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual assault, has come up against some hurdles in her campaign to make it a law in New York state.

When Merryn was six years old she was sexually abused by a neighbor. When she was eleven she was sexually abused again by a cousin for two years. She stayed silent for years.

"These men may have stolen my innocence, may have taken my trust, but the one thing I've reclaimed from both of them is my voice," she said.

Merryn says she was also never taught in school to speak up against sexual abuse.

"I feel if someone had come into the classroom, the same way the police officer taught us for six weeks how to say no to drugs, it would have given me the courage to speak up and tell somebody," Merryn explained.

Merryn has appeared on Oprah and other national talk shows advocating for sexual abuse survivors, and has written books about the subject. She convinced the legislature in her home state of Illinois to create a task force to study the problem of sexual abuse prevention in schools. Erin's Law was passed in Illinois in 2013, and 14 other states have joined in passing the law as well.
State Sen. Dave Valesky of Oneida is a co-sponsor of the bill in New York.

"State law in New York includes curriculum in schools to prevent child abduction," Valesky said. "What Erin Merryn's law will do is require schools to add child sex abuse prevention to that existing curriculum for child abduction."

Merryn says New York has been the most difficult state to get her law passed. It passes in the New York State Senate, then is referred to the Assembly Education Committee, where it eventually dies.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan is the chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee. She says New York is different from other states because the Board of Regents acts as a buffer between the political process and local school districts.

"The Board of Regents determine learning standards and the school districts determine curriculum in conjunction with their teachers," Nolan said. "We try to keep the legislature generally out of a curriculum mandate."  

Nolan says New York has been a leader on sex education and prevention of abuse and exploitation.

Nolan suggested representatives of Erin's Law sit down with the Board of Regents and examine the learning standards.                                                                                                                                                                                
"If they feel that the learning standards should be strengthened in some ways in areas that are age appropriate, we're happy to make that happen," Nolan explained. "But we don't want the legislature putting in the heavy-handed politics telling teachers this is what you must teach."

Merryn is pushing for Erin's Law to be passed in all 50 states.