The 29th Alaska Legislature has the opportunity to right a serious wrong, something the Legislature before it failed to do.
A bill known best as “Erin’s Law,” which would incorporate age-appropriate education about childhood sexual abuse in all grade levels, will again go before lawmakers. The bill was snubbed after reaching the House Finance Committee in 2014, despite earning full approval by the House Education Committee. An identical bill cleared the Senate.
Erin Merryn, whom the bill is named after, visited Alaska last session to advocate its passing. After the bill was killed by House Finance (chaired at the time by Capitol-move supporter Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak), Merryn on her Facebook page blamed politics and “people on the committee that think this law is ‘sex ed.’”
“I won’t be returning to Alaska,” she wrote. “I will leave it up to the people of Alaska to convince … representatives to protect kids instead of failing them.”
It’s sad some lawmakers need convincing. Childhood sexual abuse is prevalent enough from Barrow to Ketchikan that it can’t be ignored. Few things are as deplorable as preying on child victims.
The Office of Children’s Services reported 2,296 allegations of child sexual abuse directed at 1,118 victims in 2013. Forty percent of the victims were Alaska Native. There are 2,296 reasons Erin’s Law should have passed last year.
Saying Erin’s Law is sex education is like saying swimming is fishing. Alaska’s children have a higher chance of being sexually abused than children do in Lower 48. The disparity for youngsters in rural villages is even higher.
Our kids need to be armed with knowledge; it’s the most valuable tool we can offer them. We teach our kids to “stop, drop and roll.” We teach them to “just say no.” They need to know how to respond to child predators, where to go for help, and most importantly that staying silent is never the answer. This is what Erin’s Law will do and why 19 states have passed similar legislation.
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, sponsored the bill in 2014. This year she’s co-sponsoring it with House Majority Leader Charisse Millet, R-Anchorage. Hopefully, bipartisan support in the House is enough to keep Erin’s Law on track this time. Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, introduced the Senate version last year that won approval. We hope she’ll champion it again.
Merryn’s voice won’t be heard this session; the rest of us must speak up. There’s no place for partisan politicking when the future of our children is at stake. How we protect them is every bit as important to our state’s future as gas pipelines, oil prices, roads and dams.
Erin’s Law prevents future abuse through education, and as Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
If lawmakers are serious about protecting Alaska’s future, they’ll ensure Erin’s Law is passed. Salmon, oil and minerals aren’t our most valuable resource — that honor goes to our kids, as it always should.
— Juneau Empire,