State senator discusses her own child sexual abuse in advocating for bill

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington.
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington.

State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, talked Thursday about being sexually abused by acquaintances and a distant relative as a young child, and she spoke in support of public school programs aimed at preventing child sexual and physical abuse.

“As a little girl in three different circumstances, I was sexually abused,” Kerr said at a meeting of the Senate Education Committee. “One from a laundress’s son where my mom would take her laundry to get it washed and ironed, another from a distant family member and another where a group of neighborhood boys who would just kind of do exploration on me.”

The Senate Education Committee, which includes Kerr, unanimously approved Senate Bill 250, sponsored by state Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville. The bill would allow the Kentucky Board of Education to implement age-appropriate education programs about child physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect and about how to report suspected abuse, Jones said.

Kerr, who said she was abused in the late 1950s, said she had advocated for similar legislation in years past, but it wasn’t successful.

She said she was abused before she started school, and her family responded appropriately when she told them about it. “Little girls have no idea how to react,” Kerr said.

Jones said that most cases go unreported because children don’t know where to go.

He said the bill would allow the state board of education to implement programs provided by some children’s advocacy centers into school curriculum.

“This would open the door and allow us to come in and do what we are experts in,” said Caroline Ruschell, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Children’s Advocacy Centers.

The legislation wouldn’t make such programs mandatory, Jones told committee members. But Kerr said, “I think it would be very important that we make it mandatory.”

The legislation is based on a national model law called Erin’s Law, enacted in some form in 28 states, Jones said.

He said it addresses a growing national problem: On average, a child is sexually abused every six minutes. One in four girls and one in six boys younger than 18 will be a victim of child sexual abuse.

Children trained through the program that his bill is proposing are three times more likely to report the offense and significantly more likely to try to defend themselves or speak up against the abuser, Jones said.

A lot of victims are abused by relatives or people who are close to them, he said. The proposed program teaches kids what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate and teaches them the proper ways to seek help if they think they have been abused, Jones said.

“This legislation would be a strong step forward in helping protect kids in Kentucky,” Jones said.

House Bill 250 goes to the full Senate, where lawmakers said they could add an amendment to make the school program mandatory.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears