OP-ED: Rep. Tarr Political Pipeline piece on Erins Law

Published Jan. 26, 2015 at http://ak-pipeline.com/?p=6519

Erin’s Law a low-cost way to attack Alaska’s sexual abuse epidemic

“I also ask that this legislature make Alaska the next state to pass Erin’s Law.”

That was Gov. Bill Walker’s call to action in his State of the State address.  I applaud Walker for joining in our effort to pass Erin’s Law so that we can implement this important prevention strategy to help keep our students safe.

Child sexual abuse is a chronic, devastating problem in Alaska.  In fact, in 2013, there were more than 2,296 allegations of child sexual abuse.  To put this into perspective, this is all of the students at East High School.  It’s five and a half times the number of students at Homer High School.  And it’s almost eleven times the number of students at Barrow High School.

Erin’s Law requires an age-appropriate child sexual abuse prevention curriculum is taught in all Alaska public schools.  With more than 90 percent of our students in public schools we can deliver this critical personal body safety information to most Alaskan children.  By empowering our students to speak up we can prevent these horrible events from happening and help our youth understand it’s OK to speak up to stop the abuse.

Erin’s Law also requires that school staff receive training on signs of abuse.  By helping our teachers and other school staff understand the signs of abuse they can be key parts of a successful prevention strategy.  Erin’s Law would be implemented by local school boards to ensure local control in curriculum delivery and to invite the community to be part of the conversation.

In working on this legislation over the last fourteen months I’ve learned several things that underscore why this legislation is so badly needed in our state.

One is that 90 percent of the time child sexual abuse is committed by a known and trusted adult.  Because of the relationship the child is very vulnerable to their messages that they must keep silent, that they or someone they know and love could get hurt, or that other bad things will happen to them.

A second is that individuals who commit these acts often have dozens, and sometimes up to one hundred or more victims before they are caught.  Stopping the crimes from happening can mean many more children’s lives won’t be changed forever.

And a third is that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they are 18, but only one in ten will tell someone about it.  Children are suffering in silence and we have the opportunity to change that.

Erin’s Law is a low-cost to no-cost policy that can help address of our most costly social ills.  Our children are our most important resource and investing in their safety should be a top priority.

With Walker’s strong support, we should act quickly in passing Erin’s Law and make Alaska the 21st state to pass the law.  We have an opportunity to show Alaskans that even during difficult times we can come together to pass important legislation that will have a lasting positive impact for thousands of Alaskan children.