A Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy Is an Important First Step for Schools

Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), September 24, 2018 | Go to article overview

A Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy Is an Important First Step for Schools


As a new school year gets underway, schools in Maine are implementing a 2015 state law that makes education on sexual abuse part of the curriculum for young children.

The 2015 law, sponsored by then-Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, requires that public school districts adopt written policies instituting education on sexual abuse prevention for their youngest students. The law required that the Maine Department of Education, working with sexual assault prevention organizations and others, develop a model policy that school districts could adopt as their own.

That model policy is now available, and it calls for age-appropriate education on child sexual abuse prevention to become a part of what's taught in school health classes. Training for school administrators, school nurses and teachers on the model policy, curriculum and more will start in the coming months.

Adopting the policy will be an important step for school districts. What's more important is that it actually prompts change in the classroom and helps schools foster a culture in which children recognize what sexual abuse is and feel comfortable telling a trusted adult at school that they've experienced abuse. Just as important, that school culture should then send the signal that employees have the responsibility to take appropriate action when they hear such an allegation, and report it.

When the proposal for the law came before the Maine Legislature in 2015, the testimony supporting it highlighted some important points.

First, children who have been sexually abused might not recognize that they have, in fact, been the victims of a crime, and that the abuse they've suffered is not their fault.

"Had I been taught to speak up and not keep this a secret, on what a safe touch and unsafe touch is, a safe secret and an unsafe secret, I feel I would have spoken up from the start instead of being abused for years as a child," Erin Merryn, a Chicago-area activist and sexual assault survivor, told Maine legislators in testimony.

Merryn, who's pushed for laws requiring sex abuse prevention education in all 50 states, suffered sexual abuse throughout much of her childhood -- first, molestation and rape by a friend's uncle, and later by a teenage cousin. …

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