With CVA passed, abuse survivors now push for “Erin’s Law”

Gary Greenberg, at podium, speaking out about “Erin’s Law” which will mandate the inclusion of good touch bad touch in Education Curriculum. He is accompanied by, from left, Connie Altamirano, an abuse survivor and activist; Erin Merryn the bill’s namesake; and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz.

Now that the Child Victims Act has been signed into law, abuse survivors and their allies in the Legislature want a rendition of “Erin’s Law”  — legislation designed to educate school children about personal body safety — to be adopted in New York.

Erin’s Law, which has been passed in 35 states so far, requires that once a year in school educators will teach children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade about child sexual abuse and personal body safety. They would also learn how to speak up and tell the differences between “good and bad” touch as well as what secrets are safe to keep. The bill also states that it would educate teachers on how to handle accusations or suspicion of child abuse.

The bill (S.4070-a/A.2577-a) is being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Bronx, and is sponsored in the Assembly by Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx.

Gary Greenberg, the founder of Fighting For Children PAC, and Erin Merryn, the namesake of Erin’s law, hope to grab lawmakers’ attention and explain the urgency for this bill.

Greenberg sees the law to be an excellent supplement to the Child Victims Act, a law that changed the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in the state. The law passed in February after years of dying in a Republican-led Senate.

“I was labeled in school as an emotionally disturbed child, though no one got to the root of why I was angry. Just one hour of education a year can save hundreds of lives,” said Merryn about her growing up bearing the burden of abuse.

Merryn has been advocating for the education of personal body safety in schools since 2008. She began writing her legislation about the importance of giving children the tools to understand the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch.” As a survivor of sexual abuse, she knows the difficulty of dealing with these feelings and knows that if she were given the tools that Erin’s law offers as a child she could have stopped her abusers.

When Erin was a small child she was sexually assaulted by a neighbor’s uncle. He parents moved away and the abuse ended there however it only brought her closer to her next abuser. Erin’s cousin who lived near their new home would begin to sexually abuse her. The words “Brian’s gross” spoken from her little sister broke her silence. He little sister was also being sexually assaulted by her cousin. If Erin’s Law had been in effect back then Erin might have prevented the assault of her sister.

Many states teach about “stranger danger” and the potential abuse of children by strangers. However, more than 90 percent of the time, incidents of child sexual abuse do not come from strangers, but rather people who are close to the victim or their family. In New York, the current law is only protecting children from about 10 percent of the potential abuse, according to advocates for Erin’s Law.

In 2014 Greenberg stated that in order to secure children’s safety three laws needed to be enacted. Those laws were the Child’s Victims Act (which passed in February), Erin’s law and then Brittany’s Law. “These three laws will bring rates of child abuse down,” Greenberg said.

In 2013 Erin’s Law was enacted into law in the state of Illinois. Since then Erin’s law has been passed in a total of 35 states. This bill was first introduced in New York seven years ago but has not been able to pass.

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, D-Queens, came forward with her support as a survivor of sexual abuse, “ I was nine years old and this could have changed my life… every single day that we go without passing there is another child out there that this is happening to.”

Sen. Biaggi stated, “There is no piece of legislation right now, I believe, that is more urgent, more important, and more transformative than passing Erin’s Law.” She added that schools need to give children the tools to be able to protect themselves against potential abuse.

The law is sponsored in part by the Jane Doe No More Association. This organization is empowering survivors of sexual crimes to find their voice, advance their healing and educate others. They believe if children are given the tools they can stop further abuse of future children.

The bill currently resides within the Education Committees in both the Senate and Assembly.