As Utah voted to bring in a program to teach elementary school children about preventing sexual abuse two former child victims, Elizabeth Smart and Deondra Brown, hugged and applauded.
Utah’s House voted unanimously on Thursday to pass HB286 – sometimes known as Erin’s Law – which is hailed as a way to empower children to speak out against abusers.
The bill, which will provide information to students, teachers and parents from kindergarten to 12th grade, will now go to the Senate for consideration.
How Erin’s Law helps children stand up against their abusers
The child abuse prevention bill – HB286 – offers age-appropriate classes for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
The bill, which will now be heard at the Senate, incorporates parts of Erin’s Law, after Erin Merryn who campaigns to better educate children after she suffered years of abuse at the hands of a neighbor and a cousin.
The bill proposes to help students learn what is and isn’t appropriate behavior and empowers them to stand up to abusers.
Teachers and parents are also given training on how to spot signs of potential abuse.
Parents will be allowed to attend the classes, and can ask to children to opt out.
Eight states have a version of Erin’s law and 19 others, including Utah, are considering it.
‘For a child to be able to stand up and say “no”, and have those skills to escape, have the ability to fight back, to go to find someone that they trust, that will save them. That will make a difference,’ Smart, who was kidnapped in 2002 at the age of 14, said.
She was joined on the balcony of the House chambers with her father, Ed Smart, and Brown, who is one of five siblings abused over several years by their father, Keith. Brown told Desert News that after the vote, she and Smart hugged.
‘I can guarantee you that if I had heard a program like this in school, that I would have known what to say, known to say “no”,’ said Brown, whose father was jailed in 2011 for child abuse and sodomy on a child.
‘I think it would have brought me forward a lot sooner and made me stand up for myself in that situation.’
Smart, who has been a strong advocate for the bill, told Fox 13: ‘It’s a very delicate line, but children need to realize that not all adults have their best interests out for them, which is unfortunate.’
Bill sponsor Angela Romero, said the bill would ’empower’ children, parents and educators to confront sexual abuse.
‘Nobody wants to think about any harm coming to their children, let alone abuse,’ Romero said. ‘But the reality is that child abuse happens every six minutes in the U.S.’
She said the training would help children and their parents tackle tough conversations and give youngsters the information they need to prevent sexual abuse. The bill would also train teachers to spot signs of abuse.
Attempts to make the classes something parents would have to opt-in for their children were rejected, with House Minority Leader Jen Seelig pointing out that it would allow abusers in a family to prevent their victims from attending.
‘If we make this amendment, we’re asking members of the majority group of people who commit these atrocious acts to give permission to children to learn how to defend themselves,’ Seelig said.