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Erin's Law

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, center, meets with Erin Merryn and Gary Greenberg as they advocate for passage of Erin's Law, which would require age-appropriate sex abuse education in New York schools. 

Child sex abuse survivors Gary Greenberg and Erin Merryn are collaborating in an attempt to pass legislation bearing Merryn's name that would mandate sex abuse education in New York schools. 

Greenberg and Merryn held a press conference in Albany Monday and met with lawmakers to discuss Erin's Law. The bill would require age-appropriate education to help children learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching. The curriculum would also help students learn how to report sex abuse. 

When Merryn visited New York for the first time in 2011, two states had adopted Erin's Law. Eight years later, 35 states now have mandated sex abuse education in schools. 

"New York could've been the third," Merryn said in a phone interview Monday. "But here we are all these years later and 35 states have passed it and New York has not." 

Erin's Law received bipartisan support in the state Senate, where the chamber passed the bill on multiple occasions. But it faced hurdles in the state Assembly. Merryn blamed former Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan for blocking the bill. 

While there was bipartisan support for the bill in the Assembly, it didn't receive a floor vote. 

State lawmakers are trying again this year. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, the longtime sponsor of Erin's Law, has reintroduced the bill. State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who revealed earlier this year that she was sexually abused as a child, is sponsoring the bill in her chamber. 

"There is no piece of legislation right now that is more urgent, more important and more transformative than passing Erin's Law," Biaggi, D-Bronx, said in a statement. "Had I had the language, and known who to speak to, I would not have suffered for the majority of my adult life." 

With Greenberg, Merryn has an important ally who has successfully advocated for legislation to combat child sexual abuse. A businessman, Greenberg launched Protect NY Kids and the Fighting For Children political action committee to build support for the Child Victims Act, which the state Legislature passed in January. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill last month. 

The Child Victims Act gives child sex abuse survivors until age 28 to pursue felony charges against their attackers. For civil cases, the statute of limitations was raised to age 55. 

The law also contains a one-year "look-back" provision that allows past victims to file lawsuits against their abusers. 

Greenberg believes Erin's Law would complement the Child Victims Act. 

"There is very little education and kids are being abused and threatened," he said by phone. "Erin's Law will be a tool to teach kids that if they are abused, they can report it and no one is going to hurt them. A lot of kids that are abused today don't realize it's abuse because no one teaches them." 

Erin's Law has been effective in other states where it's been adopted, according to Merryn. She mentioned cases in Illinois, Maryland and Oregon where children who participated in the educational sessions informed teachers they were sexually abused. 

In the Maryland case, Merryn said a fifth-grader listening to the lesson in her class shared that a teacher had been sexually abusing her. An investigation found the teacher sexually abused four girls over a 15-year period. He was convicted and sentenced to 48 years in prison. 

Merryn acknowledged one of the concerns about the bill is the time required for the lessons. She explained that they aren't requesting several weeks for the curriculum. It would take an hour or hour and a half of class time, she added. 

With Greenberg's support and the backing of several lawmakers, Merryn is hopeful that 2019 will be the year New York adopts Erin's Law. 

"I do feel much better than where we were eight years ago," she said. "I feel a lot more confident that we can make this a reality." 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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