Conflict seen in TN laws to prevent child sexual abuse and to restrict sex education

Organizations pushing Tennessee schools to expand their child sexual abuse prevention efforts say they face resistance from educators worried about violating a state law putting restrictions on sex education classes, reports The Tennessean.

In 2014, the legislature enacted “Erin’s Law,” which is intended to encourage schools to provide sex abuse prevention education. But there’s also the “Gateway Law,” enacted earlier to focus sex education efforts on abstinence and providing penalties for teachers who discuss “gateway” behaviors that could lead to premarital sex.

As a result, many Tennessee public schools aren’t talking to kids about sex abuse prevention at all — for fear that broaching the subject will spur questions from kids about healthy sexuality, something that could lead to civil fines or lawsuits by parents under the 2010 law.

“Some schools are afraid that if they begin talking about sexual assaults or bystander training the kids will want to talk about sex,” said Kim Janecek, education curriculum manager at the Sexual Assault Center.

“A lot of schools also just want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend this issue isn’t happening,” she said. “They don’t want to tackle this topic. They’re afraid they’ll get parent backlash. But it’s more prevalent than they realize. One in six boys and one in four girls are sexually assaulted.”

In Tennessee, there were 3,072 child sex abuse cases reported across the state in 2016, a number that child advocates say is under-reported.

… Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee and the Sexual Assault Center are working to reach parents, teachers and school counselors at community meetings and statewide conferences with a “tool kit” to advocate for implementing Erin’s Law in their local schools.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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