We Need to Talk About Child Sexual Abuse

Erin’s Law, which requires public schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program, is one step toward removing stigma and getting those affected the help they need.
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Connecticut's Cathy Osten  testified before the Children’s Committee on a bill she introduced that  would establish a state-wide task force to help prevent the sexual abuse  of children. (Photo: CT Senate Democrats/Flicks)

Connecticut's Cathy Osten testified before the Children’s Committee on a bill she introduced that would establish a state-wide task force to help prevent the sexual abuse of children. (Photo: CT Senate Democrats/Flicks)

We live in a world of surprising statistics, but here’s a piece of data that’s truly startling—approximately one in four girls and one in 20 boys report experiencing sexual abuse during childhood, according to research from the University of New Hampshire published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

If that doesn’t open your eyes, then perhaps this will: Most children know the person who sexually abuses them.

And, finally, consider this: An average of 68 percent of all sexual assaults in the last five years weren’t reported in the United States, and only about two percent of all rapists will ever serve a day in prison, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

These facts and figures help frame a silent epidemic that plagues our country. And, given the statistics provided by the University of New Hampshire, we can definitely call it an epidemic. Part of the problem is that we make sexual abuse of children easier when we don’t talk about it at home, in our communities, or in our schools.

To stop this secretive scourge, and save our kids, we strongly believe that our society must openly and actively engage in an educational conversation about child sexual abuse. And we’re urging legislators in all 50 states to pass Erin’s Law, which requires that public schools implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program that teaches:

  • Students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade age-appropriate techniques to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult.
  • School personnel about child sexual abuse: how to recognize the signs and symptoms; why reporting to authorities is so critical; and how to handle a child’s disclosure of abuse.
  • Parents and guardians about the warning signs of child sexual abuse, while offering assistance, and referral,or resource information to support sexually abused children and their families.

As of today, 21 states have passed a version of Erin’s Law, including Illinois, Texas, California, and West Virginia. Here’s the full list, in order of when the law was passed.

  1. Illinois
  2. Indiana
  3. Maine
  4. Missouri
  5. Michigan
  6. Arkansas
  7. Mississippi
  8. Nevada
  9. New Mexico
  10. Utah
  11. Tennessee
  12. New Hampshire
  13. Connecticut
  14. Louisiana
  15. South Carolina
  16. Vermont
  17. Pennsylvania
  18. Rhode Island
  19. California
  20. Texas
  21. West Virginia

Erin’s Law has met some opposition; in certain states, legislators believe it’s a costly government mandate. Our response is that the long-term cost of child sexual abuse—in both emotional and financial terms—is prohibitive and simply unacceptable in our society.

Indeed, children who are able to disclose their abuse—and get the help and support they need—are far more likely to recover fully from the trauma and lead healthy, productive lives.

Compare this to children who endure abuse for years and don’t tell anybody, or children who report abuse to an adult and are not believed. Without receiving the necessary support, their long-term trajectory is statistically poor, and they are far more likely to grow up and abuse drugs and alcohol, drop out of school, and suffer from depression.

This is why we’re currently pushing for passage of Erin’s Law in 21 additional states, from Delaware to Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

  1. Delaware
  2. Georgia
  3. Hawaii
  4. Iowa
  5. Kansas
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Minnesota
  8. Nebraska
  9. New York
  10. Ohio
  11. Oklahoma
  12. South Dakota
  13. Kentucky
  14. North Carolina
  15. West Virginia
  16. Maryland
  17. Alaska
  18. New Jersey
  19. District of Columbia
  20. Florida
  21. Washington
  22. Oregon

Erin’s Law isn’t the only way to engage the public about child sexual abuse, but it’s a powerful and profound step in the right direction. And, in addition to educating children, school personnel, and parents about this quiet and pervasive menace, it puts perpetrators on notice. We’re no longer going to allow our children to be preyed upon.

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