North Florida Middle Schoolers To Learn About Sex Abuse Prevention

Sep 28, 2016

Speakers at the Monique Burr Foundation for Children luncheon: from left to right, Ed Burr, chairman of the board; Monique Burr Foundation for Children and CEO, GreenPointe Holdings LLC; Erin Merryn, author and National Child Safety Advocate; Missy Peters, executive director, Community First Cares Foundation; Craig Comfort, Southeast Region marketing manager, Mazda, Representing the Mazda Foundation.
Credit Blake Allen/WJCT News

The Monique Burr Foundation for Children announced a new program Wednesday to teach students in grades six through eight how to identify and prevent sexual abuse.

The foundation held a luncheon at the University of North Florida to reveal the MBF Teen Safety Matters personal safety education program. “The program addresses emotional, physical, and digital safety, and teaches students and adults how to prevent, recognize, and respond appropriately to bullying, cyberbullying, all types of child abuse, relationship abuse, sexual assault, human trafficking, digital abuse and other digital dangers,” according to the program overview.

Certified facilitators will teach “age and developmentally appropriate” safety rules and strategies, which follow recommendations of polyvictimization research.

The teen pilot program will be in up to 15 schools in Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties, beginning in the spring of this 2016-17 school year, and will work to complement the already existing MBF Child Safety Matters program, which educates students K-6.

Last year, the MBF Child Safety Matters program reached over 441,000 students in Florida. The program has reached 1.5 million students since it began in 2010.

MBF Child Safety Matters is also in Ohio and other parts of the country.

After this year’s pilot, the program will be available to any school in Florida, however funding is still needed to provide the program at no cost to Florida public middle schools.

One of the speakers at Wednesday’s luncheon was Erin Merryn, a survivor of sexual abuse and national child safety advocate.

Merryn is the founder of Erin’s Law, which mandates age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness, as well as prevention education for K-12 students.

“The same way we teach kids (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), the eight ways to say no to drugs, well we’re the eight ways on how to get away and tell today. Without this education, kids are getting one message only and it’s from the perpetrator, ‘this is our little secret no one will believe you,’ ” Merryn said.

Merryn said one of the main struggles with getting this kind of education mandated in schools is funding, but that changed in 2015.

“In December, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, and part of that legislation puts forth federal funding towards Erin’s Law,” Merryn said. “So, in 2017-2018 school year, this funding will become available to schools to purchase curriculum, to hire outside educators to come in and teach this. So there’s no longer this cost that it’s an unfunded mandate, and that is my biggest hurdle.”

So far, 28 states have passed Erin’s Law. Florida is not yet one of them.

News Intern Blake Allen can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org, or on Twitter @BAllenMMJ