COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio is one of the few remaining states that doesn’t require child sex abuse prevention to be taught in schools, but lawmakers said that may change thanks to a News 5 story.
Bipartisan legislators have tried five times in 10 years to pass Erin’s Law, now House Bill 105, and Tuesday it went further than it has ever before. The bill was introduced to this General Assembly by state Reps. Brigid Kelly, a Democrat from Cincinnati and Scott Lipps, a Republican from Franklin.
The pair told News 5 in March that the Senate committee had stalled the bill, once again, after it passed the House easily one year ago. It was a surprise when a third hearing popped up.
“Local journalism is incredibly important to highlight what’s being done — or not — at the Statehouse,” Kelly said. “Your coverage of Erin’s Law has helped continue to push this issue and given lawmakers more opportunity to discuss why this bill is so important.”
The hearing featured just one testimony — Erin of Erin’s Law herself.
“There are plenty of kids in Ohio that are going to go to bed tonight keeping the same secret I kept as a child, waiting to be taught in school, waiting to be given this education, to empower them that they will be believed and how to speak up,” Erin Merryn said.
Merryn was sexually abused throughout her childhood, first by a neighbor starting at age six.
“Had I been educated as a young child, I would have spoken up,” the advocate said.
Now a mother and a motivational speaker, Merryn has helped pass her bill in 37 states. It would require schools to provide one annual age-appropriate lesson in child sex abuse prevention.
“What we’re teaching our first graders on Erin’s Law is not what we’re teaching our sixth, seventh, eighth graders,” she said. “It’s getting the proper people, the proper curriculum that is educating kids on this because it could do more harm than good.”
The bill has had no opponent testimony, however, a few republicans and the Center for Christian Virtue have spoken out against it, saying that it teaches sexual education and keeps parents in the dark. During the hearing, state Sen. Sandra O’Brien, a Republican from Ashtabula, warned that not every parent would be able to check their child’s curriculum.
“I am sorry about what happened to you, there is evil in the world and there will always be evil,” the senator said. “I am concerned of losing the innocence of our young children.”
In the March coverage of the bill, Center for Christian Virtue explained its side.
“Ohio already has sexual violence prevention education in our schools. It raises red flags when some activists push policies like Erin’s Law in our schools but refuse to provide details on what the curriculum will entail or to let parents opt their children out of the course. Parents should not be treated like enemies and kept in the dark,” President Aaron Baer said.
That isn’t accurate, according to bill sponsors.
“This bill does not establish a health curriculum and this bill does not establish a curriculum for sex education,” Kelly said. “This is about sex abuse prevention, this is about sexual violence prevention.”
Kelly and Lipps emphasized that this legislation is catered to age groups and would be taught in an appropriate matter depending on age.
“It’s helping kids in K-6 understand a good touch, bad touch or appropriate behavior,” Lipps said. “It’s helping children 7-12 understand sexual violence or ‘no means no.'”
The bill states that instruction in child sexual abuse prevention must include information on available counseling and resources for children who are sexually abused. It would also require the Department of Education to provide website links to free curricula addressing sexual violence prevention in order to assist schools in developing their own lessons.
There were more questions from O’Brien who worried that groups like Planned Parenthood would be creating the school’s curriculum. Merryn assured her that wasn’t happening and never would happen.
“I want them to do nothing with this bill, they should not be in the classroom teaching kids this — they have a totally different agenda,” the activist said. “It has nothing to do with personal body safety. Erin’s Law has nothing to do with sex ed and anyone tries to teach it there, believe me, I’ll have a lot to say about that.”
The sponsors, although they think it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the child, compromised with some reluctant lawmakers — including an opt-out provision for parents.
“I would rather have some of these kids come across with losing their innocence rather than not giving those kids that are being abused the voice and speak up and their innocence continues to be stolen and lost for much longer than it needs to be,” Merryn said.
It’s up to the committee to pass it to the Senate for a full and final vote.