Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signed legislation designed to educate elementary school children about sexual assault and abuse.
The measure – known as Erin's Law – now requires schools to implement an age-appropriate sexual assault and abuse awareness and prevention curriculum for all grades, preschool through high school, starting next school year.
"My most important duty as governor is to make sure every child in Illinois is safe and healthy," Quinn said in a news release. "Sexual assault and abuse steals a child’s innocence and can be extremely psychologically and physically damaging.
"Erin’s Law empowers young victims and teaches children what kind of behavior is and isn’t OK, which will prevent abuse and protect the children of Illinois."
The law is named for Erin Merryn, a 27-year-old Schaumburg woman abused as a child. Merryn has dedicated herself to helping victims break their silence, educating children about sexual assault and abuse and arming them with tools to prevent abuse.
"I am overcome with joy to know my voice was heard and Illinois children will now be educated and empowered every year with their voice to protect them from sexual abuse," Merryn said in a news release. "I've turned pain into a purpose to end the silence and to educate and preserve the innocence of children."
Her message resonated in the Sauk Valley. Merryn was the keynote speaker at a Crimes Against Children Conference sponsored by Shining Star Child Advocacy Center of Dixon in 2010.
Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss heard her vision for protecting children and got involved; he lobbied local legislators to make her dream a reality. State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, and former State Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, shepherded Erin's Law through the Legislature.
"It's very exciting," said Langloss, who was on hand at the signing. "This is going to make kids safer, give them a voice and teach them to use their voice to step up and report abuse ... and it's going to prevent them from being victims of abuse.
"It's really groundbreaking for our nation," he continued. "No other state has stepped up and done this with mandates for the schools."
Mitchell said he was "thrilled to death" the law was signed. Bivins said he was happy, too.
"This is truly about the kids," Bivins said. "This bill has tremendous impact. We're reversing the roles in the education of our children. It's a sensitive area, but there's age-appropriate material available. This will give them the ability to not become victims, and if they do, they won't have to sit in silence for years."
Four other states – Indiana, Maine, Michigan and Missouri – have implemented versions of Erin’s Law.
Illinois is the first state to pass legislation that more comprehensively addresses the need for child sexual assault and abuse education in schools statewide. Previously, only high schools were required to include sexual assault and abuse awareness education. Now, with Erin's Law, elementary and middle schools also must provide such education.
Quinn in 2011 signed the initial version of Erin’s Law, which created a task force to study ways to reduce child sexual abuse and make recommendations to the Legislature.
Thursday, he signed the final version, which was based on the findings of the task force.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.