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A bipartisan bill seeks to mandate child sexual abuse and sexual violence prevention education in Ohio schools.
The bill was introduced this week, and requires “age-appropriate instruction” in child sexual abuse prevention for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The education would include resources and available counseling for children who are sexually abused.
For grades seven through 12, sexual violence prevention education would be implemented. Education would be provided for teachers and staff as part of in-service training.
The Ohio Department of Education would be tasked with providing free resources for schools and instructors, according to the bill’s sponsors.
Cosponsor, state Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, said the issue directly affects his district.
“Recently, a teacher in Springboro was charged with 36 counts of gross sexual imposition involving 28 students, all under the age of 13,” Lipps said.
Teacher John Austin Hopkins was sentenced to eight years in prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing first-grade girls in Springboro.
Lipps said Hopkins was only charged for crimes against 28 students, but cited law enforcement as saying 88 students could have been involved.
“These students were assaulted by someone they believed was trustworthy and there are now 88 young lives that will be forever changed as a result,” Lipps told the House Primary and Secondary Committee.
A report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 1.6% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were victims of rape or sexual assault, and a study from the Crimes Against Children Research Center showed one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
Cosponsor, state Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, said the bill has been introduced in every General Assembly since the 130th in 2013, and should be passed to prioritize student safety and wellness.
“I think most of us, if not all of us, agree that we need to give all of the kids in our community the best chance to succeed, and that includes the knowledge and support to recognize when something isn’t right and the tools to be able to say something,” Kelly said.
Parents will be able to review the instructional materials, a question that came up during the committee’s initial review of the bill.
State Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula, said she received “a lot of feedback” from parents wanting to opt their children out of the training.
According to Lipps, previous versions of the bill have had an “opt-out” option, and it has been “heavily discussed” for the current version.
Kelly said opt-out options create a challenge, but the bill’s provision allowing parents to review every piece of information being shared with students could be a better option to opting-out.
“We really do think that it is important that kids get this information because if more kids at the beginning of the (Hopkins case) could recognize that hey, this is wrong, this should not be happening, then we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about 88 kids or 28 kids or eight kids, if kid number one could recognize what was going on,” Kelly said.
Lipps said similar bills have been passed in 30 states.
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