'Erin's Law' legislation enacted

'Erin's Law' legislation enacted

PROVIDENCE - Legislation has been signed into law that will establish a comprehensive school program for an age-appropriate course of instruction in the prevention of child abduction, child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse.

"Erin's Law," sponsored by state Sen. James Doyle II of District 8 in Pawtucket and state Rep. Raymond Johnston of House District 61 in Pawtucket, was passed this year by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee. The law goes into effect immediately.

Already law in 12 states and under legislative consideration in several others, the law is named for Erin Merryn of Illinois who, beginning at the age of 6, was repeatedly raped by a neighbor, and who, beginning at age 11, was sexually abused by a relative.

Now 27, Merryn has been on her crusade for the past 14 years to spread the word that telling someone about sexual abuse and exploitation is an important lesson for children, a message she brought to Rhode Island when she testified earlier this year before both the House and Senate Committee on Judiciary.

The law will require that all pupils in kindergarten through grade 8 in all public schools in the state to receive instruction designed to prevent abduction, exploitation or sexual abuse. The instruction is to be provided by or under the direct supervision of regular classroom teachers or any other agency, public or private.

The law also requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop and prescribe an age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education program as part of existing health education requirements. It calls on the commissioner to provide technical assistance for the development of curricula for such courses.

Local school committees would provide for the incorporation of the course within the existing health education program.