The Virginia legislature has approved a law that will allow the age-appropriate teaching of students on the ways to identify child abuse, child sexual abuse, and abduction. Many schools already teach age-appropriate students about dating and domestic violence and sexual assault, but prior to this bill, younger and more vulnerable children did not receive any education about matters relevant to them.
The legislation is based on the educational programs promoted by Erin’s Law, a nonprofit organization that encourages the passage of legislation that requires schools to implement programs designed to teach personal body safety to prevent child sexual abuse. Erin’s Law has been passed in 35 states and legislation is pending in the remaining 15 that have not passed it. The law passed in Virginia is not Erin’s Law, as it allows the implementation of these programs but does not require it.
Erin’s Law, when passed, requires all public schools to implement programs that teach children in Pre-K through 12th grade how to recognize sexual abuse and report it to an adult, fully educate school personnel on sexual abuse, and teach parents and guardians the warning signs of sexual abuse.
Virginia law treats child sexual abuse seriously, and the laws vary depending upon the ages of the individuals involved. However, any individual who is convicted of the sexual exploitation of a child is guilty of a Class 5 felony, which carries with it a punishment of not less than one year and not more than 10 years in prison. Multiple convictions over time can increase that period of incarceration to 20 years.
“When an individual is charged with child sexual abuse or any other type of domestic violence, the consequences of a conviction can be overwhelming,” said Patrick Woolley, a Virginia Domestic Violence Attorney with the law firm of Price Benowitz, LLP. “It is important that the individual have legal counsel to advise them of and protect their rights.”