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Erin's Law: Teaching Arkansas Kids It's OK to Report Abuse

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013   

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The task force being created under Arkansas' new "Erin's Law" is expected to be assembled soon and convene for the first time this summer.

State Rep. John Baine, D-El Dorado, said the panel will look at the best ways to teach children who are being sexually abused that they need to tell a trusted adult - such as a nurse, guidance counselor or educator.

"If something is being done to them, I want them to raise their hand and tell their teacher," Baine said. "That's basically our bottom-line goal, and that way, mandated reporters under Arkansas law will immediately contact the authorities per the protocols in every school district."

In addition to explaining to children how to speak up, the law also aims to teach the teachers what to look for, according to its namesake, Erin Merryn.

"Teaching the educators what they need to be trained on," she said. "Looking for warning signs. How to respond when a kid reports this. Looking for the red flags in a kid that's showing the signs of abuse."

Merryn has been trying to bring the law nationwide after she and her sister suffered sexual abuse as children - and, as with a majority of victims, it was by someone they knew and trusted.

"It wasn't by the 'stranger danger' we were warned about every year in school," she said. "We knew not to go look for a lost puppy, but when a family member was abusing both of us, the only message we got came from the perpetrator: 'This is our secret. No one will believe you. Stay silent.' And that's what most kids get."

Among the places where victims can turn are the 13 Children's Advocacy Centers across Arkansas. Last year alone, they interviewed nearly 3,700 children who were victims of abuse, neglect and maltreatment.

After the task force has identified any shortcomings and reviewed which age-based curriculum is the most effective, implementation will follow - either through the state Department of Education or with proposals in the 2015 Legislature.

Arkansas is the seventh state to adopt Erin's Law.

The bill's text is online at arkleg.state.ar.us. More information on Merryn and Erin's Law is at erinmerryn.net.



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