Bennett plans to unveil law to fight sexual abuse

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, February 21, 2017

One in five girls and one in 20 boys are sexually abused, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

A local representative plans to unveil legislation this week that will provide education to schools across the state to help prevent sexual abuse.

Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, plans to introduce Erin’s Law, initiated by sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn, as a non-mandatory way for districts to educate students on the signs of sexual abuse and to instruct children to feel comfortable talking to an adult if abuse is occurring.

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“It’s something I think we need to address, and I think schools are a good place to do that in an appropriate way,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s legislation would instruct the Department of Education to survey schools across the state on how they are addressing preventing sexual abuse and encourage districts to develop staff awareness of the issue. Districts could provide parents with information on how predators groom their victims and how parents can help children who are being sexually abused. The law aims to reduce self-blame by victims and mobilize bystanders.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services:

Self-report studies show 20 percent of women and 5 to 10 percent of men recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident.

During a one-year period in the United States, 16 percent of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized. Over the course of a lifetime, that number grew to 28 percent.

Children between the ages of 7 and 13 are most vulnerable to childhood sexual abuse.

According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, three out of four adolescents who have been sexually abused were victimized by someone well known to them.

In developing the legislation, Bennett spoke with sexual abuse survivors who told her they wished the law would have been implemented when they were in school.

Erin’s Law was the brainchild of Merryn, an author, activist and speaker. Erin’s Law has passed in 28 states and has been introduced or planned for introduction in 20 states.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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