Governor Jack Markell signed Erin’s Law in a ceremony at Junior League of Wilmington headquarters (JLW) on Aug. 10, 2016, making Delaware the 28th state nationwide to approve the law, which requires all publicly funded schools to implement age-appropriate child sexual abuse prevention education. The JLW spearheaded passage of Erin’s Law in the First State.
Gov. Markell thanked the Junior League of Wilmington for its efforts, saying, “I am truly grateful for your advocacy. I don’t know that we’d be here today without your leadership.”
“I really wish we didn’t have to be here, frankly, but the truth is that we do. Each of the statistics represents actual real people—our children. As we discover new things that have to be done, we do them,” Markell said.
Senator Margaret Rose Henry, a sustaining member of the JLW, introduced the legislation as Senate Bill 213 after the League’s Erin’s Law Task Force brought the measure to her attention. The Task Force continued to advocate for the bill by providing research; raising awareness among community members and child welfare organizations and agencies, including the Beau Biden Foundation; delivering testimony to the Senate Education Committee, to the House Administration Committee and on the Senate floor; and reaching out to individual legislators to request that they vote “yes.” Erin’s Law inspired a return to legislative advocacy for the League, which led to the adoption of Delaware’s Foster Care Review Act more than 35 years ago.
“Passage of Erin’s Law in Delaware shows what the hard work, persistence, determination and teamwork of a group of dedicated women can accomplish,” said Stephanie Graev, JLW president. “A law like this is particularly vital in a state where the Earl Bradley case is part of recent history.”
Patty Dailey Lewis of the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children thanked the Junior League for helping carry forth the late Biden’s mission. She quoted him, saying, “We will not eliminate the problem until we shine a light on it.”
Erin’s Law is named for Erin Merryn, an Illinois woman and sexual abuse survivor who has made it her mission to urge all 50 states adopt this measure so young victims will know how to speak up and concerned adults will know how to recognize signs and help children get the assistance they need. The JLW, which has been focusing its community impact efforts on improving the health and well-being of children for more than five years, became involved in Merryn’s campaign after member Susan Coulby saw Merryn on a “Where Are They Now?” episode of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and learned Delaware had not yet adopted Erin’s Law.
JLW member Dionna Sargent coordinated the 10-member Erin’s Law Task Force. Joining Henry as primary sponsors of the bill were Senator Ernesto Lopez, Representative Valerie Longhurst and Representative Deborah Hudson. Co-sponsors of this bipartisan, upstate-downstate legislation included Senators Bethany Hall-Long, Gerald Hocker, Brian Pettyjohn, Nicole Poore, David P. Sokola and Bryan Townsend, and Representatives Stephanie T. Bolden, Earl Jaques, Sean Lynn, Daniel Short, Melanie George Smith, Stephen Smyk, Kim Williams and David L. Wilson.