We could say the names in our sleep—Megan’s Law; the Adam Walsh Act; Polly Klass; Jessica’s Law; Lauren Book; Chelsea’s Law; Laura Ahearn; and so many others.
They all mark milestones for laws and policies and mandates and programs that claim to fight child sexual abuse. More than one has launched the major participant to fame, fortune, or a political stepping-stone. They all claim to be pro-victim—but they aren’t. They are pro-registry. They are pro-public notification. They are pro-lifetime punishment for those who have committed any one of over 200 offenses, from the mildest possible to the most horrific, that triggers sex offender registration.
None of them are supported by evidence or empirical data. None of them focus on victims.
Enter Erin’s Law.
Erin Merryn is not involved in self-promoting activities. She does not appear to seek fame or power. She isn’t running for political office. She has limited her activism and her advocacy, born out of her own childhood abuse, to writing books and to lobbying legislators about the need for research-based sexual molestation prevention programs in public schools.
This is from her website:
After Erin introduced the legislation in her home state of Illinois, the bill was named “Erin’s Law” after her by legislators and it has caught on nationwide. “Erin’s Law” requires that all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program which teaches:
- Students in grades pre-K – 12th grade, age-appropriate techniques to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult
- School personnel all about child sexual abuse
- Parents & guardians the warning signs of child sexual abuse, plus needed assistance, referral or resource information to support sexually abused children and their families
I have scoured the site. I have found zero references to the sex offense registry. As far as I am able to determine, this is a totally victim-focused program. It is an education and prevention program, not a punishment program or a revenge-motivated program.
There are one or two statistics used on the site that I find contrary to research studies, but I can forgive that, and I will attempt to communicate with Erin about those things.
What I find possibly the most significant is that in five years, 26 state legislatures have passed Erin’s Law, and a significant number more are considering it. The states are underwriting the expenses themselves. They are receiving no help from the federal government.
Compare that to the states—is it 17?—who have adopted the Adam Walsh Act in nine years, and many of those only through coercion and federal help and with many reservations and reluctances and with some states poised to repeal it.
People who commit crime should be appropriately punished. Then everything possible should be done to foster rehabilitation and re-connection to a healthy lifestyle and a law-abiding community.
Making a significant difference in the number of children who are sexually abused will only be effected through education and prevention, and of every “law” named after a victim, Erin’s Law is the only one of which I am aware that is putting the total focus in the right place.