Schools now on the front lines of preventing, stopping sexual abuse of children


SPRINGFIELD, IL — Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-16th) spoke at a signing ceremony for “Erin’s Law” and applauded its namesake, Erin Merryn, a victim-turned-advocate who was sexually abused as a child and now campaigns nationwide for policies that protect children from molestation.


“We recognize that schools can and should function as safe havens for children who need desperately to know that sexual abuse is wrong, that it’s not their fault and that they can stop the abuse by telling a trusted adult,” said Sen. Collins, who in 2011 sponsored legislation creating the Erin’s Law Task Force, which issued recommendations incorporated in the law signed today. “I salute Erin Merryn for having the courage to tell her story so other children will not have to endure the abuse she suffered for years.”


House Bill 6193, known as Erin’s Law, requires schools to provide sexual assault and abuse prevention education in an age-appropriate manner for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students. Previously only middle and high schools were required to offer this instruction. The new law also allows teachers to receive professional development credit for training in sexual assault and abuse awareness and prevention.


The signing ceremony was held at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Hoffman Estates. Ms. Merryn, an Illinois native, received counseling at the center after finally telling her parents about abuse she suffered at the hands of a friend’s uncle and an older cousin. She had been raped and molested repeatedly for five years, but shame and fear kept her from reporting the perpetrators. Since 2010, she has pushed for all states to pass versions of Erin’s Law and testifies that she would have been emboldened to speak up if her school had taught her about unacceptable touch, emphasized that child victims are not at fault in abusive situations and offered resources and a listening ear.


PHOTO: State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-16th), advocate Erin Merryn and Governor Pat Quinn at the bill signing for House Bill 6193 on January 24th, 2013

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Sen. Collins nominated community jazz group for $2,000 donation from AT&T

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Sen. Jacqueline Collins was honored to participate in AT&T's presentation of a $2,000 check to Live the Spirit Residency, a non-profit organization that hosts the Englewood Jazz Festival, offers music instruction to neighborhood youth and sponsors the Live the Spirit big band. She nominated the organization, which enriches life in Englewood by providing high-quality and accessible jazz programming to the public, for AT&T's Investing in Illinois Award.

Sen. Collins (right) is pictured at the December 26 ceremony with Ernest Dawkins (left), internationally renowned artist and founder of Live the Spirit Residency, and Sam Balark (center) representing AT&T.

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 Law emphasizes education, teacher training as keys to ending sexual abuse of children

SPRINGFIELD, IL – State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-16th) secured passage today of a measure designed to prevent child sexual abuse by educating elementary school students and training school personnel to respond to signs and reports of abuse. She partnered with former sexual abuse victim Erin Merryn, an Illinois native and Western Illinois University graduate who has advocated for similar laws in other states and in Congress. Glamour Magazine featured Erin as 2012 Woman of the Year for her efforts to help other children avoid or escape the kind of abuse she suffered as a young child.

"Passing Erin's Law gives children in Illinois the voice I never had as a child," Erin Merryn said. "We will finally begin educating children to speak up and tell if someone ever abuses or tries to abuse them. That's a lesson that could have saved me years of molestation and rape."

"Part of making our schools safe places is ensuring students can approach a teacher or staff member and receive accurate information and help when they have been abused," Sen. Collins said. "We know that 93 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a person the victim already knows, so the 'stranger danger' warning children frequently hear is not sufficient protection."

In 2011, Sen. Collins co-sponsored legislation creating the Erin's Law Task Force. The group released a report in June finding that early education is a child's best defense. Currently, Illinois middle and high schools must provide sexual assault and abuse education, but there is no similar requirement for elementary schools. Erin's Law (House Bill 6193) requires schools to provide this instruction in an age-appropriate manner for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students. It also allows teachers to receive professional development credit for training in sexual assault and abuse awareness and prevention. The measure has already passed the House and will now go to the governor for his signature.

"Many perpetrators tell their victims they will be punished, not trusted and listened to, if they report the abuse," Sen. Collins said. "Schools are the best vehicle for making sure all children hear this important message and offering a way out so children will no longer suffer in shame and silence as Erin did."

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From left to right, John Holton (Director of the Illinois Department on Aging), Sen. Collins and David Vinkler (AARP)


"Our seniors must be given the opportunity to age with dignity and grace."

SPRINGFIELD, IL – State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-16th) received the Legislator of the Year Award from AARP at a luncheon held today during the Governor's Conference on Aging. AARP's Manager of Outreach and Advocacy, Nancy Nelson, cited Sen. Collins' leadership on such efforts as nursing home reform, homestead exemptions and assisting low-income seniors with utility bills.

"I accept this award with gratitude and humility and with an awareness of the work left to be done," Sen. Collins said. "I stand here with a community of caregivers and advocates dedicated to helping all senior citizens, regardless of race or region. Our seniors must be given the opportunity to age with dignity and grace."

Since entering the Senate in 2003, Sen. Collins has sponsored many pieces of legislation protecting senior citizens from fraud and exploitation, including in nursing homes. Although she helped secure passage of landmark nursing home reforms in 2010, she continues to work for further improvements in the quality of long-term care, especially for low-income and minority seniors. Sen. Collins was instrumental in making sure low-income seniors could continue receiving property tax relief, and she sponsored a 2003 law prohibiting utility companies from disconnecting service to Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) customers — many of them seniors on fixed incomes — during the winter months. Sen. Collins was one of only a handful of senators to vote no on the "Smart Grid" utility rate hike legislation because of its cost impact on the elderly.

"At a time when budget cuts have shredded the safety net on which many senior citizens rely, it is more important than ever for public officials to speak up for our vulnerable and valuable elderly neighbors," said Sen. Collins, a vocal critic of reductions such as the elimination of the Illinois Cares Rx prescription assistance program. "We have a long way to go, but we owe our seniors our total engagement on these critical issues."

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