Ridgewood mother applauds passage of ‘Erin’s Law’ bringing child sex abuse prevention to schools

Courtesy of Connie Altamirano

A Ridgewood activist can finally rest after “Erin’s Law” was overwhelmingly approved by the Assembly in the waning hours of the legislative session early Friday morning, making New York the 37th state to adopt the measure.

Connie Altamirano, a 45-year-old single mother of two who suffers from PTSD and other complications following her own sexual abuse as a child, had worked tirelessly advocating for the passage of the Child Victims Act, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in February. She vowed that she would not stop lobbying efforts in Albany until Erin’s Law was passed as well.

Sponsored by state Senator Alessandra Biaggi of the Bronx, the bill requires the commissioner of education to make recommendations to the board of regents relating to instruction on preventing child sexual exploitation and abuse in kindergarten through eighth grade. The goal is to provide training for children to identify and appropriately respond to sexual abuse.

“We made history today in the New York Assembly,” Altamirano said. “I commend the Assembly members for passing Erin’s Law and setting forth the most important educational tool that will not only educate but help give a voice to children who have been victims of sexual abuse. What our educational system was lacking for decades was a sexual abuse prevention curriculum that will help break the prevalent cycle of systematic childhood sexual abuse.”

Altamirano stressed that Erin’s Law will provide a tool for children to protect themselves, to know the difference between safe and unsafe touches as well as safe and unsafe secrets.

“It gives a lifeline to children letting them know it’s all right to talk about what happened to them,” Altamirano said. “It could save them from years of rape abuse and the trauma it causes survivors.”

Named for Erin Merryn, the survivor who founded Erin’s Law only watch it fail to pass the Assembly in each of the last seven years after it had passed in the Senate, she was pleased to see the Assembly pass by an overwhelming 143-1 vote.

“I have spent the past seven years spending thousands of hours on the phone and sending emails to legislators and reporters, dozens of media interviews trying to pass Erin’s Law in New York,” Merryn said. “The children of New York will finally have a voice and be armed with the ability to speak up and tell if they have been abused because of this education they will receive once a year under Erin’s Law.”

She also thanks the Albany-based activist and child sex abuse survivor Gary Greenburg who created Fighting for Children PAC who worked closely with Altamirano in putting pressure on lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“Erin’s Law will complement the Child Victims Act as a necessary educational component,” Greenburg said. “Let’s continue to empower our children against rampant sexual abuse, expose abusers and break this epidemic one piece of legislation at a time.”

It was an emotional journey for Altamirano who found herself hysterically crying after Erin’s Law passed.

“There’s joy, but it’s always bittersweet because I’m fighting for that little girl inside me that was so terrorized. I fought so hard for this for my children, the children of New York state and to rectify my own past,” Altamirano said. “When I found my voice I made it my mission to pass the Child Victims Act and Erin’s Law and then I was going to relax and retire. But the pain doesn’t go away and so I will continue to do all I can to protect children.”

Now she wants Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign it into law so the mandated curriculum can be implemented in time for the new school year in September.

“You’ll be giving children a voice so they can say, ‘This is happening to me’ and we don’t want to wait another year,” Altamirano said. “I kept my promise and kept up the fight. I did good and I’m very proud of the work I did.”

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