Ridgewood mother says education would be a lifeline for sexually abused children

Courtesy of Connie Altamirano

Connie Altamirano’s advocacy on behalf of young victims of sexual abuse didn’t end with a “bittersweet victory” in February when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act (CVA) into law.

The 45-year-old Ridgewood activist, a single mother of two who suffers from PTSD and other complications following her own sexual abuse as a child, was back in Albany Monday fighting for Erin’s Law, which would mandate age-appropriate education in all public schools, from pre-K to 12, regarding inappropriate touching and reporting.

“Yes, the CVA passed and it was not enough. It was just a step in the right direction,” Altamirano said. “My whole thing is this should have been part of the CVA but it was left out. If they had taught me the difference between a safe touch and a not safe touch I would have raised my hand and told my story. That could have saved me from years of more rape and my attacker would have been jailed.”

Altamirano traveled to the state capitol to stand with Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz and Erin Merryn, the author and activist against child sexual abuse and the founder of Erin’s Law. Though the law has passed in 35 states, New York has yet to vote on the measure. Merryn tried to make New York one of the first to pass the bill, but was met with resistance when she tried to introduce it in Albany seven years ago.

“I have returned to New York to see that it happens this time,” Merryn said. “We must educate children on personal body safety, protecting them and empowering them against abusers, and helping to root our systemic abusers by exposing and prosecuting them, potentially saving hundreds of lives per abuser. Spending just one hour out of a school year to teach these important lessons could be the difference between a child reporting their abuse, or being abused for years and not reporting until late adulthood, if reporting it at all.”

She said federal funds were available thanks to the passage of a similar bill by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

“I have been in communication with Erin for five years, and have urged lawmakers to introduce and pass Erin’s Law in New York state while I was advocating for the CVA,” Altamirano said. “Kids need to know how to recognize abuse, and how to report it. As a survivor, I know that if such a law was implemented and enforced in public schools decades ago, I would have known to tell someone.”

Cruz agreed while choking back tears.

“It could have changed my life,” Cruz said, herself a child abuse survivor who suffered with trauma for years.

Erin’s Law is not expected to be taken up by the Legislation until after the state budget is passed, but Altamirano and other activists will keep the pressure on.

“It is my obligation to help the children of New York state because no one helped me. The CVA should have covered prevention and awareness,” Altamirano said. “Erin’s Law will provide a tool for a child to protect themselves, to know the difference between safe and unsafe touches and safe and unsafe secrets. It gives a lifeline to children letting them know it’s alright to talk about what happened to them. It could save them from years of rape abuse and the trauma it causes survivors.”

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