Violence Prevention Education for K-12 Students
Summer 2023 Written by Melissa Cruz, Prevention Educator
Erin’s Law became law in Ohio last April and requires educators to provide annual instruction on child sexual abuse prevention for all K-12 students. Under Erin's Law, Ohio youth will learn how to recognize abuse, know that it's not ok, and tell a trusted adult.
The law is named for Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Erin was only in kindergarten when she was abused at her first sleepover by her friend’s uncle.
Erin shared in a public interview, “Looking back on my childhood, I had learned tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills. Yet there was nothing on how to speak up and tell if you’re being abused.”
So, she created Erin’s law for the prevention of abuse.
What does the law do? “Erin’s law requires every year child sexual abuse to be taught in public schools,” Merryn said. Children will learn the importance of body safety and have the tools to speak up, she said.
Erin has taken the law nationally – with Ohio being the 38th state to enact Erin’s law.
Since 2012, the Violence Prevention Program at Crime Victim Services has been providing age-appropriate programming that meets the needs of Erin’s Law. Prevention educators teach students how to engage safely in relationships, with lessons in their curriculum about setting boundaries and healthy relationship characteristics.
As one of the educators with the prevention team – I have taught students from elementary school to high school how to set and protect a boundary and how to respond if it’s crossed.
Our children need to know they are supported. We have the students hold up one of their hands and identify with each finger someone who is a safe, trusted adult in their life. I’ve seen students hold up their hands and name the adults out loud. I’ve seen some start to name their fingers and pause at number three or four. We ask them to keep the thumb for an adult that is not related to them like a teacher, coach, or mentor that they trust.
We teach students the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to break up safely. We are prevention educators, but we are not “the sex education” teachers. We do not teach about sex! We do cover sexting in middle school and high school and that it is illegal to request, create or send pictures of swimsuit areas.
One of my favorite responses from students is when they write that they’ve learned something new from our teaching series. Our youth need protecting – and to know abuse is never their fault. You can find more information about Erin's Law at www.erinslaw.org. And you can learn more about our approach to prevention education at crimevictimservices.org/violenceprevention.