The exact statistics around child sexual abuse are difficult to pinpoint. Some resources cite sexual abuse as impacting 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys, while others report the numbers to be much higher, at 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys. It’s hard to get exact numbers, because it’s a crime that so often goes unreported. And, even though we can discuss statistics all day long, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 in 3, 1 in 5, or 1 in 20 when you or a loved one are that 1.
A child who is being or has been sexually abused might be scared, confused, sad, angry, or possibly even unsure what has happened. For many children, parents may not have talked to them about what abuse means, or about appropriate/inappropriate touching, leaving that child potentially clueless. This is all, of course, before even considering that it isn’t up to a child to not be abused. We can encourage, talk, and educate, but we can not place the impetus of preventing child abuse on children, regardless of how educated they may or may not have been on the subject.
It can be so challenging for a child to even identify that something is wrong. And when the abuser is a parent or guardian, it complicates matters even further for a child. Children are taught to watch out for “strangers”, but are not often told to beware of their own parents, family, or loved ones, even though it is estimated that nearly 95% child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by someone the child knows.
The good news is that there are many people who are working hard to help prevent this problem by giving the kids the knowledge of what sexual abuse is in a way that is appropriate for their age, and how to tell someone if something has happened to them. They are fighting to get a law passed known as Erin’s Law. Erin’s Law requires all public schools in each state to implement a prevention oriented child sexual abuse program that teaches age-appropriate techniques to pre-K – 12th grade students. These techniques help children recognize sexual abuse and be able to tell a trusted adult. It also is so that school personnel, and parents/guardians know and can recognize the warning signs of child sexual abuse. Plus it would require education on when assistance is needed, referrals, or resource information to support a child that was sexually abused and their families. All this information and more is located at http://www.erinslaw.org.
Among those advocating for Erin’s Law is an old high school classmate of mine named Siara Akers. I had not spoken to her in a long time, but I saw that she had become an advocate for all kids and this very important law. We took a training on how to talk to kids about sexual abuse, and I was very happy when she agreed to share her story with me and the world. So, I wanted to thank her for her courage and strength for being so transparent in this interview.
Kristin DeWitt: Hi Siara! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. Can you tell a little bit about yourself?
Siara Akers: My name is Siara Akers. I’m a wife to an amazing husband and a mom to two very special kids! My daughter is 7 and my son is 3. I work out of my home babysitting kids and I truly love these little ones like they’re my own!
KD: Recently you have become a pretty big advocate for Erin’s Law. Can you tell us what it is and what made you want to fight for that particular law? Share as much or as little as you want.
SA: I have recently been advocating for Erin’s law. It’s a law that forces schools to include lessons on sexual abuse at age-appropriate levels. I lost a friend to suicide earlier this year, and I feel it was over abuse that happened in our teenage years. While dealing with that, news broke that a gym teacher in my daughter’s school district had inappropriately touched many little girls. My child was a student of his. It hit me then that I can avoid sleepovers, one on one situations with men and still cannot protect her at all times. I have had talks with my daughter about her body parts and good touch and bad touch, but I don’t think I hit all the parts I should have, to no fault of my own. You just can’t no matter what protect your child 24/7 and say all the right things. That’s why I believe someone should come to schools and teach all children comfortable touch and uncomfortable touch. People who are trained and have seen many different types of scenarios who can add on to our own conversations with the kids. I honestly believe it’s common sense to do this with all children and help prevent it from happening but also informing the child the signs in case it’s already happening and then we can stop it.
KD: What was the process like in contacting the representatives and how did you go about it.
SA: So the process of contacting the representative was actually very easy. I had stayed up at night thinking of many different scenarios on how I can fix this for future children. I did all kinds of a research and I watched a news article on Erin’s law. I then googled everything about this law and saw that you need representatives to introduce it for you. I was googling representatives in my area and Rep. Lipps was the very first email that came up. I sent him a super long email about my personal life experiences and how Erin’s law could’ve helped prevent or at the least lowered the number of victims at the school district I was in. He responded the next day giving me his word that he was going to do just that and he has not let me down at all!
KD: Did you receive any negative push back from people you know or in the community when advocating for Erin’s law
SA: I have not seen any negative push back from my community just yet, but I do know that a case is building to oppose it at the statehouse.
KD: What was it like to prepare to give a testimony at the state house? How did this happen and what did you need to do to get ready?
SA:The representative told me from the start he wanted me to be on this journey with him since I brought it to his attention, and he asked me to come to the statehouse to give a testimony. To be honest it was very hard. I’m not a public speaker in the slightest, but I kept reminding myself that this was for my child and the rest of the children in the state of Ohio. That my voice may be able to change their lives. That’s a huge push.
KD: What was your experience like going to the state house and speaking on behalf of Erin’s law. Were you nervous? Also, what was it like hearing other people’s testimonies? And how did you think they were received by the representatives in the room?
SA: My experience at the statehouse was amazing! I have never been there before and it’s very nice! I feel my testimony was received very well and listening to the others was nice too. The women were so very very strong.
KD: How has the support from the community been with Erin’s law, does your school district want it implemented.
SA: The support from the community keeps me going. I have many moms behind me ready to see this pass. The last I heard the school was not for this kind of conversations in their school buildings.
KD: I know that there was a horrible thing that happened to a bunch of 6-year-old girls, do you believe that having Erin’s law in schools can help prevent things like this from happening?
SA: There were (up to) 88 6-7-year-old girls inappropriately touched in my school system last year. I 1000% believe there would not have been 88 children if a professional was in there talking to these girls. One of them would have realized it was wrong and it could’ve been stopped before it started.
KD: What are the next steps for Erin’s law in Ohio? Are you going to give any more testimonies?
SA: Erin’s law was moved to a different committee so we will start testimonies over again very shortly. I will give one if not two testimonies on this law again.
KD: Has advocating for Erin’s law changed you and the way you see things and if so do you see yourself doing more advocating work for children of abuse?
SA: Yes, I feel like advocating for this law has changed me. First, I have learned so much in the last year about child sex abuse than I ever have. Second, I feel it has made my own story a victory. I do not feel like a victim or a smaller person than the person who made me A victim. I actually feel like a bigger person than them at this point and I’m stomping all over what they did, if that makes sense.
KD: Do you have any finishing statements?
SA: Thanks, so much for the interview! I hope this helps!
If your state is one of the 13 without Erin’s Law but you want to change that, take the steps that Siara did. Write to your representative and make some noise. Our kids are worth it and so is their safety. If we give them tools and support now, those who do experience sexual abuse might have help preventing many of the issues that stem from sexual trauma as they grow up.
Again, thanks so much to Siara for taking the time to do this interview and tell her story.
*Please note that any mention of specific representatives in this article is due to the experience of the interviewee, and should not be read as AVFTI’s endorsement or opposition to individual politicians.