Erin’s Law: Teaching Kids to Recognize & Avoid Sexual Abuse

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:04 pm

Editor’s Note: In June of 2014, South Carolina became the 16th State to pass Erin Merryn’s law – a law that requires school districts to teach children to tell on anyone who tries to touch their private parts. Speaking as a survivor, it is difficult for me to understand why any state would not endorse this.  

In honor of Pediatric Safety’s 5 Year Bloggiversary, we are publishing 5 of our favorite posts – one from each year since the day we started. This is our third “look back” post.  It was written by Jill Starishevsky, a NY Assistant District Attorney who has dedicated her career to helping victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Our thanks to her for reminding us that, as horrifying as it is to think about – child sexual abuse DOES happen – and it is up to us to educate our children so that we can prevent it from happening to them. More information on Erin’s law can be found here.

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In October 2011, New York State announced it would join the ranks of those states that have introduced a bill Kids in Classentitled Erin Merryn’s Law. The measure would require schools to make a change to their existing curriculum for child abduction to include child sexual abuse prevention. This alteration would give critically important information to victims – many of whom do not know there is a way out of their horrific situation. As a child, Merryn was abused by both a neighbor and a family member. She says she stayed silent due to a combination of threats from her abusers, and the lack of knowledge about available help.  If passed, New York would become the third state to enact Erin Merryn’s law, following Missouri and Merryn’s home state of Illinois.

In light of recent events at our nation’s universities, parents should continue to be vigilant about teaching child sexual abuse prevention in the home. By age three, children should be taught that their bodies have private parts and no one is to touch those parts (with the necessary medical and hygiene exceptions). Of course children should be taught the correct terminology for their body as nicknames can be confusing and delay a disclosure.

The following are some tips that are often overlooked:

  1. When someone tickles a child, if the child says No, all tickling should cease. Children need to know that their words have power and No means No.
  2. Teach children that it is OK to say No to an adult. Without permission from you, many children may be reluctant to do so even if the adult is doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  3. Teach children that all of these lessons apply to other children as well. If another child is touching your child in a way that makes him or her uncomfortable, teach your child to say No, get away and tell someone.
  4. Be careful with the language you use when speaking with children. Avoid saying things such as “Have a good day and do everything your teacher tells you to do.” Children are very literal and need to be told that they should not listen to someone who is telling them to do something that might be harmful to them or to someone else.
  5. Let your child decide how they want to express affection. If they do not want to hug or kiss Grandpa goodbye or sit on Santa’s lap, do not force them. You take away their power over their own body if you force them to be demonstrative in their affection. Children need to be taught their body belongs to them.
  6. Teach children to respect the privacy of others. They should learn to knock on doors that are shut before opening them and close the door to the bathroom when they are using it. If they learn to respect the privacy of others, they may be more likely to recognize that an invasion of their privacy could be a red flag meaning danger.
  7. Use your poker face. Encourage your child to come you if they have questions about anything. Avoid looking shocked or embarrassed by the question. Children who sense their parents’ discomfort will be less inclined to approach the parent next time he or she has a question.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused by age 18 in the United States. 93% of the abuse happens at the hands of those entrusted with the care and protection of the child. With the passage of Erin Merryn’s Law, critical information will reach every child in New York State.

Is your state advocating for the welfare of children?

About the Author

Jill Starishevsky is an Assistant District Attorney in New York City where she has prosecuted hundreds of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Outside the courtroom, Jill's fondness for writing led her to create thepoemlady.com, where she pens personalized pieces for all occasions. Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me, a children’s book intended to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching 3-8 year olds their bodies are private. Jill also manages a discussion group on LinkedIn called Child Safety Network. In October 2006, Jill launched HowsMyNanny.com, an online nanny reporting service that works to keep children safe by enabling parents to receive positive and negative feedback on their child’s caregiver.

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