Education is the key to putting a dent in sexual abuse, and we support that, but not bogus statistics and fear mongering to get elected or to look "tough" on crime.
By Suzanne Laurent
In an effort to empower school-age children to recognize the signs of sexual abuse — and to break the silence surrounding it — Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, will introduce a bill Tuesday to establish a commission to study sexual abuse prevention education from kindergarten through grade 12.
Senate Bill 348 (PDF) will bring together parents, educators, representatives of state education, health and law enforcement agencies, legislators, and experts from Sexual Assault Support Services of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to make recommendations to the legislature.
“President Obama recently reported that 20 percent of undergrads are victims of sexual assault,” Watters said by phone Monday. “We need to start prevention at an earlier age.”
The White House Council on Women and Girls' “Rape and Sexual Assault: A New Call to Action,” reported earlier this month that nearly half of female survivors were raped before they were 18, and over one-quarter of male survivors were raped before they were 10.
- Where is the White House Council on Men and Boys site?
College students are particularly vulnerable with one in five women sexually assaulted while in college, the report stated.
“As a father, I have my own feelings about these numbers,” Watters said. “Our neighboring states, Vermont and Maine, have passed laws or established commissions or task forces to provide age-appropriate education about sexual abuse.”
Watters said these laws were inspired by the advocacy of Erin Merryn for “Erin's Law,” first adopted in her home state of Illinois. The mission of Erin's law is to get education in all 50 states on the prevention of sexual abuse by empowering children with their voice instead of allowing sex offenders to silence them.
Watters said the bill was drafted when he was approached by Jessica Paradis, a constituent from Somersworth. Paradis is a long-time volunteer at Sexual Assault Support Services, or SASS, who advocated for the bill.
SASS, based in Portsmouth, serves 42 cities and towns in Rockingham and Strafford counties. For more than 25 years, SASS has offered prevention programs in an effort to keep children safe from sexual victimization.
In 2009, SASS merged its prevention education efforts with A Safe Place and created a comprehensive Safe Kids Strong Teens program.
“But we are only reaching 10,000 children in grades kindergarten through 12,” said Kathy Beebe, executive director of SASS. “There are 40,000 school-aged kids in this coverage area.”
SASS has two full-time educators during the school year, AmeriCorps volunteers and interns who go out to the schools to administer the prevention curriculum. But SASS is at its capacity and doesn't have the resources to expand.
“We are excited at the possibility of this commission,” Beebe said. “It will explore the best practices for bringing more uniformity across the state, more awareness and possibly funding.”
Under Senate Bill 348, New Hampshire's Commission would study the current practices and legislation in other jurisdictions regarding sexual abuse prevention education in elementary and secondary schools.
It will also identify model evidence-based curricula for sexual abuse prevention education and make recommendations for utilizing trained professionals to implement this curricula as well as training for reporting of sexual abuse in schools.
“Teachers are already overburdened,” Watters said. “We will study who would be best for implementing this type of education.”
Along these lines, the commission would study opportunities for collaboration with state and local agencies, community-based organizations, and other public and private organizations to provide prevention education services. It will also examine potential funding sources.
Watters said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, is interested in the commission and has been supportive of the bill.
The hearing for Senate Bill 348 is scheduled for Tuesday morning before the Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee. If the bill passes, a final report by the commission would be due July 1, 2015.