Child Victims of Sexual Abuse Say Awareness is Key to Prevention
HARRISBURG – “In this country, one in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18, yet many of these child victims are either unaware of what just happened, what to do or are afraid to act,” said Rep. Mauree Gingrich (R-Lebanon) at a Capitol news conference this morning.
Gingrich is sponsoring legislation to include child exploitation awareness in the health curriculum in Pennsylvania schools. The focus of House Bill 2318 is not the perpetrator, but the prevention of child exploitation through awareness. The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on Gingrich’s bill later today.
“Many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported because children either do not know it is wrong or they think no one will believe them,” said Gingrich. “Under my legislation, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will develop an age-appropriate model child exploitation curriculum to be included in the health curriculum for children in grades K-8. I have learned from victims, victim advocates, law enforcement, and through numerous studies that awareness is a powerful tool in the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation. I am confident that through awareness, as outlined in my bill, children will recognize inappropriate – even criminal – behavior.”
Two adult victims of child sexual abuse told of the confusion, fear and shame they endured at the hands of trusted adults. They emphasized the need to arm children with information that will help them to avoid victimization, compel them to come forward if they are victimized, and help to prevent others from falling victim to abuse.
Erin Merryn, who has authored two books on her life as a child victim of sexual abuse, is directing a nationwide crusade to pass laws to prevent child exploitation through awareness. To date, four states have passed Erin’s Law and legislation is pending in eight other states, including Gingrich’s bill in Pennsylvania.
Al Chesley, a former linebacker with the University of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Eagles, was sexually abused by a trusted neighbor at the age of 13. The perpetrator was a Washington, D.C., police officer who worked in the same police department as his father and was revered by Chesley and other kids in the neighborhood. Chesley said he was not able to talk about the abuse until well into adulthood. He said his life was shrouded in shame and guilt that is still difficult to talk about today. He said he is speaking out now in the hope that doing so might protect other children from having to endure the horrors he has experienced.
Chesley said he knows now that if he had told his parents about the abuse, they would have protected him, but it was fear and shame that prevented him from speaking out. He said his silence has come at a high price. Now in his mid-50s, Chesley helps other victims through his work with the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Merryn and Chesley are scheduled to testify when the House Education Committee takes up Gingrich’s legislation today at 1 p.m. in Room 140 Main Capitol Building in Harrisburg.
State Representative Mauree Gingrich
101st District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Donna Pinkham