Bill seeks to prevent child sex abuse

HILO — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the state to establish a sexual abuse prevention program for public school students.

The bill is filed as House Bill 2430 and companion Senate Bill 2368. It would mandate the state Department of Education create a program for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade on child abuse and child sexual abuse prevention through “developmentally appropriate and evidenced-based instruction.”

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It also would require the DOE to provide training to teachers and staff, and to inform parents and guardians about important child sexual abuse topics.

The program would begin in the 2019-20 school year. It would require a minimum of one-hour of instruction on the topic per school year.

“Many parents are uncomfortable talking about this kind of thing with their kids, so it may not come up at home,” said House bill co-sponsor state Rep. Richard Creagan, D-Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona. “ … And people often are abused by those they trust the most. So telling kids that, ‘Hey, this kind of touching is not OK,’ it needs to be brought up.”

Creagan said there will probably be an “opt-out” provision added to the program, should parents choose.

According to the bill, current sexual abuse prevention programs offered in Hawaii schools are “not consistent” and resources are limited.

The bill also says 31 states plus Guam have passed laws requiring consistent sexual abuse prevention education. Those laws are collectively referred to as “Erin’s Law,” which is named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois child sexual abuse survivor who has led a national movement to require sexual abuse prevention programs, according to the bill.

One in four girls and one in six boys will be victims of child sexual abuse by age 18, according to the bill.

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Both versions of the bill have cleared a first reading and have been referred to committees.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.