- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma would join about 20 other states that authorize public schools to implement programs to help prevent child sexual abuse if legislation approved by an Oklahoma Senate committee on Monday becomes law.

The Senate Committee on Education voted 12-1 for the House-passed measure known as Erin’s Law and sent it to the full Senate for a vote. The bill is named after childhood sexual assault survivor, author, activist and Illinois-native Erin Merryn, who founded a nonprofit group that promotes prevention-oriented child sexual abuse programs nationwide.

The measure’s Senate author, Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, said the program is designed to empower children and young adults to identify and report dangerous situations and avoid them.

“If something is occurring that makes you uncomfortable, that child knows what to do,” Griffin told committee members prior to the vote.

Griffin said the program is not mandatory and that local school boards would be free to decide for themselves whether to sponsor child sexual abuse prevention programs and at what age.

“It offers them a framework,” Griffin said following the meeting. “I think it’s appropriate to allow local districts to identify the needs they have in their community.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 25 percent of women and 16 percent of men are sexually abused as children. But only 38 percent of children ever disclose that they have been sexually abused and the median age of child sexual abuse victims is 9 years of age.

Information provided by the bill’s supporters indicates only 29 percent of parents talk to their children about sexual abuse and rarely with children under 9 years old. Child sexual abuse victims suffer significantly higher rates of severe mental and physical health problems both as children and adults.

The measure would authorize age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention instructional programs for public school students. State Department of Education officials say no state tax dollars would be required to implement the programs but that there could be costs to local school districts.

Students would not be required to participate in the program if a parent or guardian objected. The bill requires school districts to provide written notification to parents and guardians of students.

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Online:

House Bill 1684: https://bit.ly/19KTN4C


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