Daily Court Reporter - News Bipartisan duo proposes instruction for students on child sex abuse prevention
Bipartisan duo proposes instruction for students on child sex abuse prevention
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
Society's failure to establish an environment that protects children's innocence is the motivation for Erin's Law - a bill to require Ohio school districts to provide annual, age-appropriate instruction in child sexual abuse prevention to kindergartners and high school seniors, alike.
Rep. Dan Ramos, a Lorain Democrat and joint sponsor of the bill, said the failure has been compounded by state and federal governments' inadequacy to establish a safe forum to help abused children identify those actions as abuse and get help in obtaining intervention, recovering and protecting themselves in the future.
"Few issues can affect the long-term mental health and success of a student as much as exposure to sexual abuse," Ramos told Education and Career Readiness Committee members during testimony last week. "Unfortunately, this problem is far too widespread in the United States.
"Every six minutes a child is sexually assaulted in the United States and as many as one in four girls, and one in six boys, are sexually assaulted before age 18. Despite widespread occurrence of these horrific acts, only one in 10 children who are sexually abused tells someone."
Filed as House Bill 377, the bill also would require all school districts, educational service centers and community and STEM schools to incorporate training on child sexual abuse into its required in-service training for teachers and other professionals.
According to analysis provided by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the training must count toward the satisfaction of requirements for professional development required by the district, service center, or school.
The bill's namesake, Erin Merryn, a sex abuse survivor who later confronted her abuser, has led the charge across the nation for passage of legislation, such as HB 377, Ramos said.
Similar bills have been passed by legislatures in 31 states while another 17 states are considering such legislation.
"This issue was first brought to my attention in February of 2013 by a group of students at Lorain County Community College," Ramos said. "Their work on this issue, both within Ohio and during out-of-state academic conferences, has acted as an inspiration to me as I have pursued a legislative solution to work to address this issue.
"Over the course of 2013, I worked with these students to draft legislation that would address the issue here in Ohio and incorporate best practices from similar proposals in other states."
Joint sponsor Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, signed on to work with Ramos on the bill for introduction to the Ohio House of Representatives - a first time - during the 131st General Assembly of the legislature.
Erin's Law previously made it as far as Senate committee referral before stalling.
"I'm excited to bring it before you again today," an optimistic Ramos told fellow lawmakers. "I firmly believe in the good that we can do when working together.
"Particularly, I believe we have an obligation to our communities and to our state's citizens to find common ground when working on issues that affect children and their education."
Legislative Service Commission analyst Mike Niemi noted that HB 377 would provide that instruction in child sexual abuse prevention must include information on available counseling and resources for children who are sexually abused.
"(And) regarding sexual violence prevention education, the bill provides that, if the parent or legal guardian of a student less than 18 years of age submits to the school's principal a written request to examine the instruction materials used at that school, the principal, within a reasonable period of time, must allow the parent or guardian to examine those materials at that school," Niemi wrote.
Ramos said he and Hagan took care to avoid language that would impose upon a local community issues they may deem inappropriate for their children.
"Already, I have heard from student organizations at Ohio University, Kent State University, and Lorain County Community College who have expressed their support for this bill and desire to provide testimony to the committee," he said. "It is not lost on me that these students supporting this legislation are often those most likely to have suffered from, or known someone who suffered from, sexual abuse as a child."
Finally, HB 377 also would require the state Department of Education to provide web links to free curricula addressing sexual violence prevention to assist schools in developing their curricula.
Nine fellow House members have cosponsored the bill, which had not been scheduled a second hearing at time of publication.
Date Published: December 7, 2017