Senate sponsor, survivors, & advocates laud final Legislative passage of bill inspired by child sex abuse survivor & national advocate, Erin Merryn.
The New Jersey General Assembly has passed “Erin’s Law,” legislation long-sponsored by Senator Anthony Bucco to require all school districts to incorporate age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention and awareness education into the NJ Student Learning Standards, formerly known as the core curriculum, for students in grades Pre-K through 12. S-1130/A-769 passed the State Senate on March 25, 2019 and now heads to the Governor’s desk for final approval. If signed, Erin’s Law would take effect in the first school year following the date the law is enacted.
Today’s advancement of the bill follows a years-long effort by Senator Bucco, Erin Merryn – the survivor for whom the bill is named– and a number of other local advocates, who have worked together to ensure every child in New Jersey has the tools they need to recognize and report sexual abuse.
Erin’s Law, sponsored by Sen. Bucco, would require NJ schools to teach kids in grades Pre-k through 12 about sexual assault. The bill is named for Erin Merryn, a survivor and national advocate. (Photo Courtesy of Erin Merryn)
“Every child should understand how to recognize and report sexual abuse. Teaching kids not to talk to strangers isn’t enough when their abuser could be hiding in plain sight. 93 percent of kids know their attacker. They need age-appropriate safe-touch education,” Senator Bucco said. “We have spent years fighting for Erin’s Law, and we won’t stop until every child, in every New Jersey classroom, has access to this lifesaving information. Governor Murphy – please do not let another school year go by without helping us get this signed into law.”
Some private schools in New Jersey are already voluntarily providing safe-touch educational resources that are similar to those that would be mandatory under Senator Bucco’s Erin’s Law. In one New Jersey case, the availability of this critically-important knowledge is already having an impact.
“What makes me feel good about this law getting passed is that other kids, like me, can speak up about what is happening to them by any unsafe adult, or anyone. This law being passed will allow all children in New Jersey to see, and more likely to help them understand the importance of where it is safe & unsafe to touch. This will help kids going through abuse not be afraid to say something about it. Thank you Senator Bucco for helping all New Jersey children,” a child, who after receiving a “safe-touch” lesson at a New Jersey private school subsequently reported her abuser, said. (The child is choosing to remain anonymous in this statement, due to their status as a minor and a survivor of sexual assault.)
Under Erin’s Law, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Department of Children and Families, the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA), New Jersey Children’s Alliance, and other entities with relevant experience, must provide school districts with age-appropriate sample learning activities and resources designed to implement this requirement.
Erin Merryn, a child sex abuse survivor who has become a national advocate, has successfully fought to enact Erin’s Law in states around the country. If signed, New Jersey would be the 36th state to enact Erin’s Law. Read Erin’s testimony here.
“None of this would have been possible without Senator Bucco and his staff, who always believed in Erin’s Law and understood how important it is to protect children. As a result, hopefully kids across New Jersey will soon be able to understand personal body safety, so they can use their voice if something horrible ever happens to them,” Erin Merryn said. “Now that both houses of the Legislature have passed Erin’s Law, it is my hope that the Governor will sign our bill to help abused children right away. There is no time to waste.”
A number of New Jersey-based advocacy organizations have also fought tirelessly over the years since Senator Bucco first introduced the bill, including NJ CASA, The Nurtured Parent, and The NJ Crime Victim’s Law Center:
“It’s never too early to begin talking to young people about the power they have to create a safer New Jersey ,” Patricia Teffenhart, Executive Director of NJ CASA, said. “By engaging young people, and the caring adults in their lives, in meaningful age-appropriate conversations about consent, bodily autonomy and respect, we can begin the culture-changing work of reducing sexual violence.”
“I cannot overstate the importance of education in fighting back the tide of sexual abuse that occurs throughout New Jersey and the nation. The passage of Erin’s Law is a critical and essential component of the powerful effort on the part of our state legislators to address the evils of crime in an enlightened and positive manner,” Richard Pompelio, of the NJ Crime Victim’s Law Center, said. “The victims’ rights community once again thanks Senator Anthony Bucco for his tireless effort to provide fairness, compassion and respect to victims of violent crime.”
“Erin’s Law arms defenseless children with information that not only helps them understand what grooming and sexual abuse is, but also provides the proper education and resources to stop it,” Patrice Lenowitz, Executive Director of The Nurtured Parent, said. “Best of all, Erin’s Law helps our community prevent child abuse from ever happening. It’s a proud moment indeed when New Jersey law makers not only recognize the dangers our children face every day – at home and in school – but take definitive action to protect their safety and well-being. Thank you, and well done.”
“Our fight is not over just yet,” Senator Bucco added. “Although, I am so grateful to see this bill finally pass the Assembly today, I hope that everyone will continue to raise their voices and urge Governor Murphy to sign it as soon as possible. We cannot allow a single innocent child to suffer in silence for a moment longer. Erin’s Law deserves a signature now.”
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