Rep. Gina McCabe’s legislation to ensure students receive age-appropriate, sexual abuse prevention information and training in schools was signed by the governor Thursday, March 15.
House Bill 1539, otherwise known as Erin’s Law, would require the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to establish a coordinated program to provide age-appropriate information and training pertaining to the prevention of sexual abuse of students.
It would also require the OSPI to disseminate existing information and curricula to school districts.
“Ensuring students have access to information and training that will help them speak up and stop sexual abuse is integral to a child’s ability to learn, grow and succeed,” said McCabe, R-Goldendale. “Sadly, around 90 percent of the children who are sexually abused know the perpetrator. This isn’t just about teaching children ‘stranger danger.’ It’s about showing kids what to do when someone they’re told to trust — a teacher, a family member, a coach — inappropriately touches or sexually assaults them. Our children need to know they don’t have to endure an unhealthy relationship or situation, and that they can do something to make sure the abuse doesn’t happen again or that their abuser won’t hurt others.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only 10 percent of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are strangers to the child.
The bill is named for Erin Merryn, who was sexually abused by her cousin and a friend’s uncle during her childhood.
The first ever Erin’s Law was enacted in Merryn’s home state of Illinois in 2013 and since then, Merryn’s advocacy has helped similar bills pass in more than 30 states. With the governor’s signature, House Bill 1539 becomes the nation’s 32nd state with Erin’s Law legislation.
Another piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. McCabe to help identify missing Native American women was signed into law March 15.
House Bill 2951 would require the Washington State Patrol (WSP) to work with tribal law enforcement, federally recognized tribes, Urban Indian organizations, and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to conduct a study to increase state resources for reporting and identifying missing Native American women throughout Washington state.
“There’s currently no comprehensive data collection system for reporting or tracking missing Native American women,” said McCabe. “That’s a travesty, and I know Washington can do better. The bill will give Washington State Patrol, tribal law enforcement, and others, the ability to work on solutions together to best address this problem.”
A recent report from the National Institute of Justice found that more than four out of five Native American women have experienced violence in their lives.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control noted in 2016 that homicide is the third leading cause of death among Native American women between the ages of 10 and 24. The Department of Justice has also reported Native American women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans.
Finally, a bill that would explore ways to expand the availability of sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) in hospitals throughout Washington state was also signed into law March 15.
House Bill 2101 would require the Office of Crime Victim Advocacy (OCVA) to develop best practices for local communities seeking better access to SANE nurses. It also calls for the OCVA to develop strategies to make SANE training available to nurses in all regions of the state without requiring them to travel unreasonable distances or incur unreasonable expenses. Currently, the only SANE training available in Washington state is provided at Harborview Medical Center.
Rep. McCabe, the bill’s sponsor, says the bill is a critical first step in ensuring sexual assault survivors have equal access to quality, comprehensive care.
“SANE nurses play a critical role in the detailed forensic investigations that are necessary for the prosecution of sex crimes,” said McCabe. “Since the training is only available in one Washington hospital, that limits the ability for nurses from all over our state, including in rural regions, to participate in training, leaving gaps in care at hospitals. My bill will allow us to take a closer look at this issue and find ways to not only expand training opportunities but also expand the availability of existing SANE nurses throughout the state.”
All three bills will go into effect later this year.