President Signs Measures to Support State Action to Prevent and Address Child Sexual Abuse

Erin Merryn, advocate for Erin's Law, sits near a window.

The president has signed legislation that will help states fund sexual assault educational programs for parents, teachers, and students in public schools. Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the bill will allow states to use funds to provide age-appropriate education, beginning in elementary school, about spotting and stopping child sexual abuse.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, each year, an average of approximately 63,000 children are victims of substantiated or indicated sexual abuse. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that one in nine girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.

The House bill is a federal version of Erin's Law, named after advocate Erin Merryn, a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau and a survivor of child sexual abuse. Merryn and others advocated have successfully lobbied 26 states to pass Erin’s Laws. In the remaining states, the cost of such programs is often the biggest roadblock. The Congressional action enables states to use some of the education funds they receive from the federal government for this purpose.

“The passing of this bill it will make passing Erin's Law in the remaining 24 states happen that much faster allowing millions more children to be educated on how to speak up instead of stay silent," said Merryn.

Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy said: “No child or parent should bear the pain of these unconscionable crimes. We are grateful to Congress for authorizing the use of federal dollars to support the creation and implementation of programs that will help stop childhood sexual abusers in their tracks and support those who are victimized.”

The provisions, which passed as part of S. 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, enjoy strong bipartisan and bicameral support. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dean Heller (R-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Joe Heck (R-NV) circulated a letter to their Senate and House colleagues urging them to include the provisions. RAINN also submitted a letter of support co-signed by two dozen national and state advocates, including Merryn, the National Center for Victims of Crime; Darkness to Light; the National Children’s Alliance; Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE); RISE, and the Joyful Heart Foundation.

The measures were adopted with support of House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Joe Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

“The Senate has recognized the critical importance of teaching our children an age-appropriate understanding of sexual abuse – both how to recognize it and how to safely report it,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Funding for Erin’s Law programs will give schools the resources they need to teach children these necessary safety skills. It fills an important gap in our prevention and awareness work, and it will help make sure that schools are able to provide parents, guardians, and school personnel with the tools they need to help prevent and respond to child sexual abuse.”

Said Senator Dean Heller. “Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up in an environment free from abuse, which is why I am proud to work with Senators Gillibrand and Feinstein on this important issue.”

Rep. Clark said: “It is critical that every parent, teacher, and student knows how to prevent, recognize and report sexual abuse, and I am very pleased to see my Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act pass the House as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act,” said Clark. “This bill is an important step forward in giving school districts the tools that they need to keep our children safe.”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of "America's 100 Best Charities" by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. In 2015, the Online Hotline expanded to offer services in Spanish at The hotlines have helped more than two million people since 1994. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. For more information about RAINN, please visit

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