Will Minnesota be the last state to pass Erin's Law?

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There's disagreement among advocates about how Minnesota should enact a law teaching school children how to report sexual abuse. April Kane

April Kane was sexually abused as a child. But the south Minneapolis woman is keeping the full story to herself until the day she gets to testify on Erin’s Law -- a law that would teach all pre K-12 public school students how to speak up if they’re preyed upon.

So far, it’s been difficult. In the three years Kane’s been working to get a bill passed, there’s not been so much as a hearing on it.

“I think it makes people feel awkward to talk about it when they just don’t want to think about it,” Kane says. “We tell children about other dangers, what to do about tornadoes, earthquakes. The entire country is on alert about Ebola and there were what, three cases? We don’t tell them about a million registered sexual offenders in this country.”

Erin’s Law is named after Erin Merryn, a 30-year-old Illinois woman who was sexually abused between the ages of 6 and 13 by a neighbor, followed by a cousin. Always heeding her abusers’ threats to keep silent, she didn’t speak out until the cousin started going after her younger sister.

In 2010 Illinois became the first state to pass Erin’s Law. Since then, Merryn has traveled the country, testifying on Erin’s Law before other state legislatures. It has been passed, or at least introduced, in all but seven states.

Kane, who acts as Merryn’s eyes and ears in Minnesota, fears the embarrassment that would come with being the last.

In 2015 Kane got Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) to author a bill. But no one in the House stepped up to be co-author and it died.

“My heart goes out to the cause, but as I recall, some of the advocacy groups weren’t all on board,” Wiger says. “That’s certainly an issue, when some of the advocacy groups that you’d think would be supportive had some suggested changes to rewrite.”

Last session, Sen. Vicki Jenson (DFL-Owatonna) carried the bill, but ran into the same hurdles.

The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault is one of the advocacy groups that stands in the way. The organization is part of a working group, along with school officials, that wants to modify Erin’s Law to include training for adults.

“This bill looks very different in different states. In Minnesota what we’re looking to do is include training for adults as part of Erin’s Law,” MNCASA’s Yvonne Cournoyer says. “We know it’s important to teach children, but especially in terms of prevention, it’s really important that the adults who are around children -- teachers, parents, kid-serving organizations -- are also really knowledgeable about how to recognize signs and situations that increase the risk of child sexual abuse. That’s what we’ve been really focusing on.”

Kane disagrees that Erin’s Law should be held up in order to shift focus away from the essential point of the law -- teaching kids to break their silence.

“We already have mandatory reporting in Minnesota,” she says. “The teachers are already trained.”

Now that Democrats have lost power in the legislature, Kane is looking to Republicans to move the bill forward. Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), chair of the education finance committee, has said she would be willing to have a hearing on it, just as long as others volunteer to introduce it.

“It’s a struggle, I’m not gonna lie,” Kane says. “We’ve got a bad situation here. Minnesota’s a candy shop for predators. They love it here because they know we don’t have Erin’s Law, and they can get off easy.”

 


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