OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The numbers from researchers are startling.
One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused in some form before they turn 18, researchers say, adding that the perpetrators are usually not strangers but family members and people the children know.
To try to address the problem, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday signed a bill creating 'Erin’s Law', which requires school districts to teach kids about sexual abuse.
The law is named after Erin Merryn, who was sexually abused while growing up in Illinois. Erin is now on a mission to persuade all 50 states to pass Erin’s Law, which mandates that all public schools use age-appropriate curricula to teach students how to tell on anyone who touches or attempts to touch their private parts.
The Washington state law takes effect in July.
It’s a moment one Washington woman has been fighting for.
When Olivia Holderman reflects on her life, there is a lot of pain.
“I was already abused, I didn’t understand what this person was doing to me” Holderman said.
She disclosed that she was sexually abused by a family member in her elementary school years and said it took six decades for her to comfortably talk about it.
“There was nobody there for me ever, there was nobody I can trust,” Holderman said.
The pain turned into action. After hearing about Erin’s Law three years ago, Holderman reached out to state Rep. Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, clamoring for schools to teach children on how to identify sexual abuse.
“We teach kids earthquakes, we teach fire drills, but we don’t teach them what do when they are being sexually assaulted,” McCabe said.
But the governor’s signature on Thursday changes that.
“I am so happy for the children of the state of Washington, they are going to have a voice,” Holderman said.
All public schools will now be required to teach kids starting in kindergarten about what is safe and what is unsafe touching.
“That needs to be implanted in their hard drive in their brain. There has got to be another message besides keep quiet,” Holderman said.
Washington is now the 33rd state to implement Erin’s law.
The state will have to come up with a model curriculum by July that all schools will follow.
But it will be left up to school districts to teach the course in the venue they see fit. Every school will be required to provide one lesson a year.
Merryn says other states usually bring in experts and child psychologist to talk to children.
She says the lessons are age appropriate -- and not sex education.
“Giving them examples of safe and unsafe touches and unsafe secrets, very simple concepts. They teach kids the area covered by your swimsuit nobody touches you there, if somebody does you report it except when mom and dad is helping you take a bath mom is changing little brother,” Merryn said.
Merryn says hundreds of kids have come forward reporting sexual abuse after getting the lessons at school.