FEBRUARY 28, 2014
End the Silent Epidemic of Child Abuse
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
One of the most amazing parts of working in the Legislature is the ability to truly make a difference in the lives of Alaskans. There is an issue I have been working on that is very important to me and has influenced the lives of countless Alaskans, but remains hidden from public discussion: child sexual abuse.
In 2013, Alaska’s Office of Children’s Services statistics show that there were 2,296 allegations of child sexual abuse with 1,817 unique victims, over 40% of whom were Alaska Native children. 884 of these cases were sent to law enforcement and OCS went on to assess 809 allegations. The trend of high rates of abuse in Alaska must stop and prevention efforts are critical to reducing these numbers. This is why I proposed H.B. 233, Erin’s Law, which was brought to my attention by a constituent.
This bill requires school districts to develop age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in grades kindergarten through 12.
The curriculum is designed to educate students, teachers, and staff on unsafe touching, warning signs of abuse, resource information, and reporting information. Each school district is free to create its own curriculum and teaching tools to ensure that the material is culturally appropriate and inclusive. I hope that the districts take advantage of opportunities to work with parent and community groups so that everyone plays a part in keeping our children safe.
Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, but only 1 in 10 will tell. This is truly a silent epidemic and we must speak up.
The bill is part of a national effort to enact “Erin’s Law” in all fifty states (www.erinslaw.org). Erin Merryn is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and made it her mission to have legislation passed across the country giving children the tools to protect themselves from abuse and school staff and administrators the ability to recognize the signs of abuse. We can be a part of a national movement to end child sexual abuse.
Erin was subject to two separate instances of rape and molestation between the ages of six and twelve, both lasting for more than two years, once by a neighbor and then a family member. Each of these men told her to stay silent about what they were doing to her because no one would believe her, that she could not prove abuse, and that they would hurt people she loved if she spoke up. She, and other children, knew to duck and cover from a tornado, run out of burning building, say no to drugs with DARE, and speak up against bullying because of her school’s education program. Yet, she was never taught about improper touch or who to tell about it. Her lack of education ensured that only she and her abusers knew of the abuse.
It is time for us to give our children the power to speak up and give adults the tools to listen. In conjunction with this I have proposed a resolution, HCR 21, to make April 2014 Alaska’s Child Abuse Awareness Month. I hope that you will join with me!