A bill that aims to protect children from sexual abuse through education got unanimous support on the House floor today despite some initial concerns.
House Bill 286, sponsored by Democratic Representative Angela Romero would require school districts and charter schools to teach students about sexual abuse prevention. It would also mandate preventative training for teachers to help them spot the signs of abuse. Several lawmakers were concerned that the materials would be unsuitable for some kids and would even lead to confusion about what behaviors are appropriate. Romero says it will no doubt make for an uncomfortable discussion.
“But when we realized that only one in ten children who are abused tell someone, it shows that they are confused already,” Romero says. “They don’t know who to tell. They may not know that they should tell someone at all. That’s why we should provide this education.”
After some discussion about whether the bill should allow parents to opt in to the program, rather than opt out, which is how the HB 286 is currently written, the bill passed without opposition.
Kidnapping and sexual abuse victim Elizabeth Smart was in the Gallery to witness the vote. She noted this education is every bit, if not more important than the standard curriculum.
“If a child is being abused, I’m sorry but learning how to add 5 plus 7, that’s not going to stop a person from abusing them,” Smart says. “That’s not going to stop an adult from taking advantage of them. But for a child to be able to stand up and say no and have those skills to escape, have the ability to fight back, to go to find someone they can trust, that will save them. That will make a difference.”
Also in attendance was Deondra Brown of the 5 Browns musical group, some of whom also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their father.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.