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Senate action helps protect children from sexual abuse

The U.S. Senate has passed measures to help protect children from sexual abuse by funding school programs that provide age-appropriate lessons to primary and secondary school students, as well as information to parents, guardians, and teachers on how to recognize and safely report sexual abuse.

These provisions, based on the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act and the Helping Our Schools Protect Our Children Act, were included in the bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act. It passed the Senate today by a margin of 85-12.

Twenty-six states have passed a version of “Erin’s Law,” legislation that encourages or requires public schools to provide child sexual abuse prevention education to students, information to parents and guardians, and professional development for school personnel. The Every Student Succeeds Act passed today includes provisions championed by Senators Gillibrand, Heller and Feinstein that enable school districts to use federal grant funding to develop and implement these programs for students, parents and guardians, teachers, and other school personnel.

In 2013, there were 60,956 instances of child sexual abuse reported to Child Protective Services agencies in the U.S. However, this estimate only represents cases of child sexual abuse reported to and confirmed by child protection authorities. Many such cases are never reported to welfare or legal systems.

“The Senate has recognized the critical importance of teaching our children an age-appropriate understanding of sexual abuse – both how to recognize it and how to safely report it,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY. “Funding for Erin’s Law programs will give schools the resources they need to teach children these necessary safety skills. It fills an important gap in our prevention and awareness work, and it will help make sure that schools are able to provide parents, guardians, and school personnel with the tools they need to help prevent and respond to child sexual abuse.”

Studies have shown that educational programs designed to prevent child sexual abuse are effective at teaching children skills to identify and avoid dangerous situations. Such programs have also shown to be effective at promoting disclosure and reducing self-blame by victims. Two other critical aspects of Erin’s Law include professional development for school personnel and information for parents and guardians in how to recognize signs of child sexual abuse, talk to children about child sexual abuse, and how to respond when a child discloses sexual abuse.

The Every Student Succeeds Act provides school districts with the ability to use federal grant funding to implement Erin’s Law programs. State legislation known as Erin’s Law encourages or requires public schools to implement prevention-oriented child sexual abuse programs. The programs established through the federal grants can be developed in partnership with community-based services and non-profit organizations with expertise in child sexual abuse prevention or response. The initiatives can be designed to include topics on how to recognize child sexual abuse, how to safely report child sexual abuse and how to discuss child sexual abuse with children.

Funding for Erin’s Law programs passed the Senate as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act on Dec. 9, 2015, by a vote of 85-12. It now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

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