Sexual assault resolution sparks debate

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- It was supposed to be a simple resolution -- declaring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But it turned into a debate on the House and Senate floors about what age children should learn about sexual abuse.

The House passed the resolution unanimously last week, and so did the Senate -- initially.

But Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said he wasn't comfortable with the measure because it urged schools to observe the month with activities to increase public awareness of sexual assault.

Kelly called up the resolution -- which carries no force of law -- up for reconsideration Friday with an amendment to apply it only to secondary schools. He said elementary school children shouldn't be forced to learn about a frightening subject at such a young age.

He wouldn't, he said, call his child in to watch a movie about serial killers even though some serial killers do exist.

''That's guarding their innocence as best I can as a parent,'' Kelly said.

He also expressed distrust with schools teaching his children about the sexual abuse..

Kelly's proposed change drew a strong reaction from Democratic Sens. Georgianna Lincoln of Rampart and Bettye Davis of Anchorage.

Lincoln said limiting discussion of sexual abuse to secondary schools isn't good enough because many children fall victim to the crime at a much younger age.

Davis said some families won't talk about sexual abuse -- and some children are abused by family members.

''We do have families that are not functioning well,'' Davis said. ''We have to consider all children, not just those children that live in healthy families.''

Monday the resolution showed up again and senators approved the amended resolution along party lines -- after four Democrats, including Lincoln and Davis, asked that their names be taken off as sponsors.

The House had to take up the measure again Tuesday because of the Senate amendment. Rep. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, said the amended resolution was a tough vote for her.

She said the way sexual abuse information is presented to young children, at least in the Anchorage School District, is appropriate to their age. The youngest children are taught about the difference between ''good touch and bad touch.'' In the older grades they learn about healthy relationships.

She said 75 percent of abused children are elementary school age, and they may not receive the information if it doesn't come at school.

But Rep. Jeannette James, R-North Pole, said after watching children and grandchildren grow up, she believes it's best for parents to discuss those issues because kids are receptive to that information at different ages.

The House voted 30-8 in favor of the new version. Eight Democrats voted no.

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