(NASHVILLE) — Legislation focused on preventing child sexual abuse is headed to a final vote in the Tennessee General Assembly after receiving unanimous approval this week by the Senate Education Committee. Senate sponsor Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) said the bill, known as “Erin’s Law,” encourages schools across the state to provide age-appropriate instruction to students on personal body safety and how to report sexual abuse, with a specific focus on occurrences that could potentially happen in the home.
The bill is named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois native who was sexually abused as a child. Merryn now fully dedicates her time to getting the law passed in all fifty states.
“The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that in 2012 there were 3,508 child sexual abuse cases reported across the state,” said Overbey. “However, the U.S. Department of Justice indicates child sexual abuse is underreported in about 60% of cases, meaning the actual number of abuse cases in Tennessee is most likely much higher than reported.”
“Growing up in Illinois, I was always taught in school about tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, and stranger danger,” said Merryn, who spoke before a legislative panel last week. “But the one message I wasn’t being taught was how to speak up and tell if I was being sexually abused.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their perpetrator, with 34% of the offenders being family members. The Bureau reports that 59% of offenders were acquainted with the victim and only 7% were strangers.
“These statistics illustrate the grave need for primary sexual abuse prevention programs,” added Overbey. “Programs designed for children are an important part of a multi-faceted approach to successfully prevent child sexual abuse within Tennessee communities.”
Currently, 10 states have passed Erin’s law, and 17 additional states are introducing it this year.
Senate Bill 2421 is pending scheduling in the House and Senate Calendar Committees before heading to the full Senate and House of Representatives for a final vote. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) in the House of Representatives.