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Erin’s Law

New York Advocates Unite to Pass Erin’s Law

Children are undeniably the most innocent members of our community. Young, defenseless, impressionable and often unable to communicate or process what is happening to them. Studies show that one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. Tragically, children with physical or learning disabilities and mental illnesses are almost three times more likely to be sexually abused. Health problems such as these may have the effect of magnifying the difficulties in identifying mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, which have a causal connection to the abuse. Erin’s Law was created by Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, to increase awareness of child sexual abuse in public schools.

Under Erin’s Law, all public schools must implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program. Many times, sexual abuse goes unreported because people fear the consequences of voicing their traumas. The child safety classes will teach children how to safely prevent, recognize and respond to bullying, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. Erin’s Law aims to educate children on the difference between appropriate body contact versus inappropriate body contact; safe touching versus unsafe touching; and safe secrets versus unsafe secrets. The curriculum taught will be age-appropriate and informative on what sexual abuse is, how to stop the sexual abuse, and where to look out for the sexual abuse.

Erin’s Law emphasizes that every child is in control of their own body and that it is the child who has the ultimate decision regarding their body. At least 36 states have enacted legislation requiring the development of study age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention and identification classes. The classes are structured to help children, parents and teachers recognize sexual abuse. Typically, this type of legislation provides some form of counseling, referral or other safe way for child victims of sexual assault to report such incidences. Additionally, some school personnel require training in order to ensure that the class is the most effective and efficient for the students. Several states have also required task forces to study the issue and provide statewide recommendations for this specific arena.

Erin’s Law also focuses on teaching parents and guardians about the warning signs of sexual abuse against children and offers the necessary assistance, resource information and/or referrals to support those sex abuse survivors and their families that have been victims of sexual abuse. It is crucial for children to have an age-appropriate understanding of sexual abuse and to know how best to safely report such abuse to an adult if they or someone they know has been a victim.

This legislation’s curriculum meets both federal common core and state education requirements for mental, emotional and social wellness, comprehensive health, interpersonal communication and relationship skills, and risk management and prevention knowledge. Under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015), public schools are required to provide child abuse prevention education to their students. The goal of this legislation is to supplement children with the protective knowledge, skills and actions for educators to help mitigate such abuse. Misconception of what constitutes maltreatment, reduced communication skills, dependence on others to meet their needs, and social seclusion and loneliness are just a few of the issues that can stem from childhood sexual abuse. Unfortunately, about 90% of all sexual abuse transpires with a person the child knows. Moreover, about one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Children who endure physical, emotional and sexual abuse are more susceptible to encounter severe issues that have the ability to harm their physical, psychological and behavioral functions. Anxiety, depression, suicide, suicide attempts, substance abuse, domestic violence and potentially life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, stroke and heart disease are some of the adverse effects childhood sexual abuse can cause.

Furthermore, studies show that 54% of children and adolescents from ages 0-17 experience some form of physical assault at some point in their life. Studies have found that on average, it takes 24 years from the time a child has been abused to disclose their tragic reality to anyone. Understanding that often children will not be able to communicate their abuse immediately, New York State passed the New York Child Victims Act extending the statute of limitations so that those who have been abused- either physically or as a result of voyeurism and child pornography- can have their day in court and move toward obtaining closure. The New York Child Victims Act provides victims of sexual abuse, or survivors of abuse, the opportunity to rectify unfathomable wounds. At the very least, the Act gives these victims the potential to be protected and feel protected. Similarly, Erin’s Law seeks to invoke a sense of protection among all children. It publishes a wide-range of effective and easy-to-use educational materials for students, teachers, parents and guardians for preschools, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to utilize.

Often times, children are so unfamiliar with what sexual abuse is that they fail to recognize when it is occurring. Erin’s Law seeks to raise awareness and increase knowledge for children to be better-able to recognize and halt such abuse. The mission of Erin’s Law is to get this form of education in all 50 states on the prevention of sexual abuse. New York State was one of the few states left where the bill was still pending. Fortunately, as of June 17, 2019, Erin’s Law was enacted in New York. Implementation of this law requires that schools spend roughly an hour to an hour and a half of class time for the sexual prevention lessons. The lessons will teach children, teachers and parents simultaneously, but with different approaches. For example, it will teach children about what sexual abuse is and how to inform a trusted adult when necessary; it will teach school personnel techniques to recognize child sexual abuse; it will teach parents about the warning signs of child sexual abuse, and it will provide assistance, resource information and referrals to support sexually abused children and their families. Children will learn how to speak up and tell the differences between good and bad touching. The bill will also educate teachers on how to handle accusations or suspicion of child abuse.

The New York State Commissioner of Education is required to make recommendations to the Board of Regents relating to instruction on the prevention of child sexual exploitation and abuse in grades kindergarten through 8th. The curricula for the lessons to be taught will be developed in accordance with the needs and abilities of the pupils at successive grade levels in order to provide information, skills, awareness, knowledge, self-confidence and support to aid in the stoppage of child sexual abuse. Erin’s Law empowers survivors of sexual abuse crimes to find their voice, advance their healing and educate others. The belief in favor of Erin’s Law is that if children are given the tools for sexual abuse prevention, they can stop further abuse of future children.

Is your child, friend, or family member enduring a form of sexual abuse? If so, the most important step a victim can take to achieve justice is to immediately consult and hire an experienced, compassionate and committed attorney who knows how to aggressively protect your rights. Because these experiences often rock children to their core and result in delayed disclosure and reporting, litigating claims that span several decades becomes complicated. New York State has progressed immensely with its receptiveness to abuse victims’ voices. The right to legal recourse is one of the steps New York has taken with the hope of healing, redressing, and protecting these victims of sexual abuse. The survivors of sexual assault were awarded a victory when legislators passed the Child Victims Act and more recently, Erin’s Law. The next victory to be attained is in the area of understanding the explicit and unequivocal need for attorneys who can handle such complicated litigation. Hach & Rose, LLP is versed in complex lawsuits and its attorneys are fearless in taking on lawsuits against powerful defendants. Hach & Rose, LLP is ready to help you empower yourself.

At Hach & Rose, LLP, we are committed to working diligently and zealously to represent those who could not protect themselves. If you or a loved one has suffered from any form of sexual abuse, it is critical to act now. Do not hesitate to contact the New York sexual abuse lawyers at Hach & Rose, LLP today at (212) 779-0057 or online. Our compassionate, caring, and experienced attorneys will work diligently to uncover whether a civil lawsuit can be filed against the perpetrator or negligent third party who is responsible for the abuse.

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