ALBANY — The state Senate unanimously passed Erin’s Law late Monday, but the bill remains in the Assembly’s Committee on Education.
Erin’s Law, named after childhood sexual assault survivor Erin Merryn and already on the books in 36 other states, would mandate training and education for students and faculty in grades K-8 in all New York public schools.
New Baltimore activist Gary Greenberg, who was a driving force behind the years-long effort to pass the Child Victims Act, joined forces with Merryn to get Erin’s Law passed in New York state. Greenberg said he believes the Assembly Education Committee is not taking action because the program would be a mandate.
“The Assembly has always had problems with mandates in the curriculum so we are hopeful that now that the Senate has taken bold leadership and passed Erin’s Law as a stand-alone law, the Assembly will follow and pass it,” Greenberg said. “The bill is mandated, so it would have to be part of the curriculum, and since the Assembly oversees the Regents and state Education Department, there has always been a problem with it being mandated. They don’t want to put mandates on school districts because then other groups might come in and push for their own mandates.”
Erin’s Law was first passed in Illinois, Merryn’s home state, in 2009. Since that time Merryn has worked to champion the legislation through dozens of other states. In New York she teamed up with Greenberg, who worked for years to get the Child Victims Act through the New York Legislature. That bill extended the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse.
Greenberg said Erin’s Law would complement the Child Victims Act. The mandated training under Erin’s Law would educate children on what is an appropriate touch and what isn’t, and how to report abuse. Training would be age appropriate, Greenberg said.
And early reporting of sexual abuse would also enable earlier treatment of victims, which could alleviate or prevent future problems sexual abuse can lead to, such as substance abuse or mental illness, he said.
But first, Erin’s Law has to come out of the Education Committee and go to the Assembly floor for a vote.
“It has passed in 36 other states and kids have come forward and said they were abused. Perpetrators were taken off the streets and kids have received the treatment they need instead of going through a lifetime of problems,” Greenberg said. “Child sexual abuse is an epidemic.”
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, is not a member of the Education Committee where the bill is held up, but he said that if it goes to the floor for a full vote, he plans to support it.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that we have to educate our children about the dangers that they could face,” Tague said. “I am always supportive of legislation that would protect our children and help them be better informed. If we can provide the resources and education necessary to help ensure that our children know how to identify a dangerous situation or help out a friend, I think we should strongly consider it. After all, protecting our kids is something we can all agree is a priority.”
Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, D-82, is chairman of the Education Committee. He could not be reached for comment.
Greenberg and Merryn, along with several other organizations that are advocating for Erin’s Law, penned a letter to Benedetto on Tuesday urging the committee to send the bill through so it can go to the full Assembly for a vote.
“For the past eight years, the New York Assembly has delayed a vote on Erin’s Law. Frequently, the bill has not escaped committee in the Assembly,” according to the letter. “This tragic political gaming has left hundreds of thousands of kids in New York state harmed and permanently traumatized. With a unanimous vote in the Senate, now is the time for the Assembly to act in order to educate, empower and protect New York’s kids against rampant, systemic sexual abuse. We demand that you, as chairman, put Erin’s Law on the Education Committee Agenda for a vote immediately.”
In addition to Greenberg and Merryn, also signing the letter were Stephen Carpineta from New York Progressive Action Network; abuse survivor and activist Connie Altamirano; and Asher Lovy from Za’akah, a sexual abuse victims’ advocacy organization,
Training under Erin’s Law would not be burdensome to school districts, Greenberg said.
“Erin’s Law only asks for an hour out of the school year to teach the children, so it would not be a burden,” Greenberg said. “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s an issue of safety for children so they can know and judge whether they have been touched appropriately or not appropriately.”
If it is adopted, the program would be funded through the federal government under a law sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in 2015.