News: Quick Takes

Lawmaker plans bill requiring schools to teach about dangers of sexual abuse

Editor’s note: This story was corrected to reflect that Erin’s Law has not yet been passed in New York. The original version misstated that it had been adopted by New York legislators. We sincerely apologize for the error. 

North Carolina is one of 15 states that fails to teach children in public schools about personal body safety and the dangers of sexual abuse. A new bill, soon to be filed by Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, would change that.

The bill, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, would require public schools to “provide a child sexual abuse prevention education program commencing in kindergarten.” Instruction would include role-playing, discussion, activities, and books to teach students about “safe touch,” “unsafe touch,” “safe secrets,” and “unsafe secrets.”

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, introduced similar legislation in 2014, but that bill went nowhere.

The draft legislation is based on Erin’s Law, a nationwide model created by Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood abuse. Merryn, who as a child suffered abuse from a family member and neighbor, wants to dispel the misconception that abuse only happens at the hands of strangers, she told Carolina Journal.

“Oftentimes it’s a babysitter’s husband, or a best friend’s dad,” Merryn said.

Merryn began her legislative campaign in 2010. In 2013, Illinois enacted Erin’s Law. Thirty-five states have since adopted similar legislation.

Teaching kids about signs of sexual abuse and grooming methods are critical in the fight against human trafficking, Merryn said. In New York, Erin’s Law is written to include education about sex trafficking, but has repeatedly failed to pass into law.

Hardister, who has begun to study human trafficking and consider laws combating it, said that North Carolina may consider K-12 curriculum on sex trafficking at another time.

For now, the state should focus on teaching kids the basics — that they have a right to keep their bodies safe, he said.

“Curriculum for the students will be age appropriate,” Hardister said. “We can look at other states to see what they’ve done, and we can look at them as an example to see what does work, and what doesn’t work.”

Hardister next plans to meet with representatives from the Department of Public Instruction and the N.C. School Boards Association to discuss the law in more detail.

He expects to file the bill at the end of the month.