I was listening yesterday online to David Holthouse's testimony to the Senate Education Committee about SB 31, a law to enact Erin's Law in Alaska, mandating schools teach teachers and children to detect signs of sexual abuse and to learn what actions they can take. [You can hear, for now at least, the full hearing here.] Sen. Gardner's (who is the sponsor) aide emphasized that lessons must be age appropriate and that the schools themselves would be given the power to choose the materials they wanted to use.
Below I have Holthouse's full testimony, my transcript, and audio from the legislature's website. But first, here's the part that triggered the question above:
"And then when I was sixteen, a remarkable thing happened. I was in a humanities course in East High School in Anchorage and the teacher was lecturing on something to do with denial on a societal level, and she mentioned, almost as an aside, how high the rate of sexual abuse of children was in Alaska. She looked out at the class and she said there’s about 25, 30 of you here, statistics say two to three of you have already been sexually assaulted and you haven’t told a soul."The teacher used statistics. Gardner's aide said that nationally
1 in 4 girls andare sexually abused before the age of 18. And only 1 in 10 will say anything about it.
1 in 6 boys
She used the numbers to figure out how many students in her class, statistically, would have been abused. And there was, in fact, at least one student who had been sexually abused in that class. Maybe there was another. Holthouse's response was:
And I was riveted in my seat and I felt a great sense of relief, because it had been acknowledged in public, in a school, by a teacher what had happened to me. And it gave me tremendous comfort, even though I didn’t say anything.So using statistics and looking at the Alaska legislature, if one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before they are 18, there must be a fair number of abusers out there in our population. How many are there? I'll get to that shortly.
So let's get some help from the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute.(CMRPI)
A child molester is any older child or adult who touches a child for his or her own sexual gratification.It appears that some statistics vary because researchers use different definitions. Just take that into account. I'll be using these, fairly broad, definitions.
Child molestation is the act of sexually touching a child.
A child is a girl or boy who is 13 years of age or younger.
What's the age difference between a molester and a child? It is five years, so a 14-year-old "older child" sexually touching a nine-year-old is an example. This is the accepted medical definition.
How many child molesters are there? CMRPI writes:
In fact, approximately one out of 20 men, and approximately one out of 3,300 women are sexual abusers of children.There are 60 legislators - 20 senators and 40 representatives. There are 43 men and 17 women. Just as Holthouse's teacher used statistics to estimate the number of students in her class who had been molested, we can do the same for the legislature. We know that there was at least one child who'd been molested in that class. One out of 20 men statistically would suggest there are two child molesters in the Alaska legislature. The odds of a woman molester in the legislature is statistically low.
But, legislators are upstanding, church-going respectable people, you say.
Again, according to the CMRPI, child molesters mirror the population. Here's a chart they posted comparing characteristics of male child molesters to the general male population
|Admitted Child Molesters||American Men|
|Married and formerly Married||77%||73%|
|High School only||30%||32%|
1999 U.S. Census Statistical Abstract
Note: All people in both groups were at least 25 years old.
They have another chart with ethnicity, which matches fairly closely with ethnicity in the general American male population. A little higher for Caucasian (79% molesters v. 72% in the population), a little lower for Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian, and a little higher for Native American (3% v. 1%).
There's no reason to think that members of the legislature are less likely to be child molesters than anyone else. In fact, the position of respect and power gives them a certain cover. We're only talking about child molesters here, not men who abuse adults.
This question came to mind, as I said, because of Holthouse's testimony about his teacher's use of statistics. But I was also concerned a little about the fact that they tended not to ask questions of people who urged them to pass the bill. They did ask questions of people who raised concerns.
Concerns they had were:
1. Would this be another unfunded mandate?
2. What's preventing the schools from adopting this on their own?
3. Would schools have time for yet another mandated subject?
4. Who would pay for this?
5. What would the curriculum be like.
OK, it is their job to craft legislation that will work. They should ask questions. But their statements of the seriousness of this problem sounded so perfunctory, like something they had to say. They seemed much more interested in talking about the reasons it might not be a good idea. Some of this is because they just don't understand the huge impact this has, not just on the kids, but on society as a whole. And some of this may be due to the fact that a couple of legislators are actually child molesters, The statistics would suggest that.
Erin Merryn, the woman now, that this law has been named after, testified by phone. She said that 19 states have adopted this law and 18 more are introducing it this year.
Looking at those questions, I have to ask, "What is in the school curriculum that is more important than this?"
The CMRPI estimates that there are 3 million US kids who have been molested. Compared to that, all other threats to kids pale. Accidents are the biggest killer of kids. While over 30,000 people a year (the number has been falling steadily) are killed in car crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the CDC's figures shown at the Incidental Economist, show that a very small number of those deaths are kids - less than 1400 1-14 year olds. The odds of getting sexually molested are way, way greater than the odds of getting killed in a car crash. I realize that death is different from molestation, but the long term pain and subsequent dysfunction of being molested is lasts, for many, for a lifetime. And for many leads to suicide. [I know, using the Incidental Economist instead of the CDC numbers is a bit lazy, but he highlights the key numbers.]
Yet parents and schools don't give kids the basics they need to know to prevent child abuse in the first place and to overcome the threats of predators to report it if they do get molested.
Listen (or read) Holthouse's testimony. It's short and very compelling. The legislators all acknowledge it's a serious problem, but . . . There shouldn't be any buts here. They should be finding a way to make this law work. Every year they delay, means kids are going to be molested who wouldn't be if the law were in effect. And the molesters aren't reported and keep on molesting more kids.
[UPDATE Feb 15: No one mentioned that the audio wasn't here. I'm adding it again, let's see if it works this time.] Here's a recording of David Holthouse's testimony (and the beginning of Jeff Jessie's):
[The transcript below isn't exact, but it's pretty close]
Holthouse: Here’s what I remember about being taught to keep myself safe in grade school growing up in Anchorage. I remember what to do in an earthquake, I R what to do if I caught on fire - stop, drop, and roll - and IR to watch out for strangers bearing candy or toys. But what I didn’t learn was that a vastly greater danger to me than catching fire or being crushed by falling light fixtures in an earthquake, or even being lured into a car, far greater than one of those dangers was that someone I knew and trusted would hurt me and terrify me in ways that I did not understand and did not have the words for. And that happened in 1978 when I was seven years old. I was raped by a family friend at a dinner party in an upper middle class household in Eagle River.
When it was over the rapist told me three things. He told me , one, that I’d done a bad thing and that my dad would spank me if I told anybody. And he said if I told, that he’d say I was lying and no one would believe me. And he said furthermore if I told anybody, he would come into my house in the middle of the night and gut me like a salmon and do the same to my parents. I know now that this is typical predator behavior. So for 25 years I didn’t tell I kept it a secret and I did so at signifiant cost to my own well being.
Here’s how Erin’s Law would have made a difference for me. First,
there’s a chance it would have protected me from being raped in the first place. These types of predators depend our collective shame, denial, and silence about this issue. Even though we all know what the rates are in Alaska. They depend on it. They thrive on it. I think it’s quite possible that having know I was being taught at school about people like him, and how to tell on people like him, and what language to use to tell on people like him, he would not have committed the crime in the first place. There’s no way to know that for sure.
I also think that had I been taught about safe touch, unsafe touch, none of this language needs to be graphic for 2nd graders. All I needed to know was a word like “a bad secret” or just the very concept that someone who was a family friend might do something wrong to me and then tell me “You must keep this a secret” and if that happened, it was ok to tell a cop or my parents, or teachers, and that someone would step in and protect me. If I had been armed with that information, I think I would have told. There’s no way to know that for sure either.
What I am certain of, is that had the public school system acknowledged the prevalence of this issue in our culture, and had I been taught that in school, I would have felt not so alone. The loneliness was the worst part of it, feeling I had been affected by a freak occurrence and that made me some kind of freak.
And then when I was sixteen, a remarkable thing happened. I was in a humanities course in East High School in Anchorage and the teacher was lecturing on something to do with denial on a societal level, and she mentioned, almost as an aside, how high the rate of sexual abuse of children were in Alaska. She looked out at the class and she said there’s about 25, 30 of you here, statistics say two to three of you have already been sexually assaulted and you haven’t told a soul.
And I was riveted in my seat and I felt a great sense of relief, because it had been acknowledged in public, in a school, by a teacher what had happened to me. And it gave me tremendous comfort, even though I didn’t say anything.
So, I think that it is important that it be mandated. It sends a message to predators that it’s time for them to be afraid and it sends a message to kids that is of top priority to protect them. And so, thank you for hearing me out.
Chair: Thank you. Questions? Thank you very much.