About a quarter of high school seniors in Washington and 12 percent of eighth-graders say they've been forced into kissing, sexual touch or intercourse, according to the most recent Healthy Youth Survey.
The Legislature passed a law last year aimed at child sexual abuse prevention. It’s known as Erin’s Law and it’s the result of advocacy by Erin Merryn, a woman from Illinois who survived sexual abuse as a child. Washington is among 37 states that have now adopted versions of the legislation.
The law does not require school districts to teach sexual abuse prevention. But it does require the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to make curriculum resources available to districts. The agency also has written draft rules that require schools to notify parents and students ahead of time if sexual abuse prevention lessons will be taught, and allow parents to opt their children out. OSPI will hold a public hearing on the rules on Thursday in Olympia.
Andrea Wessel is a sexual health education program specialist with OSPI. She said one focus in identifying instructional materials is the idea of primary prevention.
“Primary prevention really looks at respecting the autonomy of students, respecting their right to say no,” Wessel said. For example, she said students have a right to say they don’t want to be hugged or don’t want to give a high-five.
She said the agency also has been identifying possible curricula with an eye toward making sure the materials can be used for all students.
“We really want to focus also on marginalized populations that experience sexual abuse at a higher rate,” she said. “Those that may have intellectual or developmental disabilities have a much higher rate of being victimized.”
Wessel says OSPI will soon post a report listing curriculum resources.