Child sex abuse survivor wants to shatter the silence with Erin’s Law

Writer David Holthouse shares his story of being raped as a child during a talk at the Alaska Capitol. Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) first introduced Erin’s Law last year. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Writer David Holthouse shares his story of being raped as a child during a talk at the Alaska Capitol. Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) first introduced Erin’s Law last year. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Alaska raised writer David Holthouse has told his story of being sexually abused as a child before. It’s appeared in newspapers, on the radio, on stage in New York City and may even end up on the movie screen.

But when he spoke in the Alaska Capitol building today, it was to support Erin’s Law. If passed, the bill would require public schools statewide to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education.

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David Holthouse has distinct childhood memories of learning how to stop, drop and roll if he ever caught on fire. He remembers McGruff the Crime Dog telling him to stay away from strangers.

“But neither McGruff nor anybody else warned me about the homecoming king,” Holthouse says.

In 1978, Holthouse was 7 years old and his family had recently moved to Anchorage. They befriended another family with a daughter his age and a son in high school. The son was a star athlete, good looking and well spoken. He was nice to Holthouse.

But he changed his demeanor the night he invited Holthouse to his room to play karate.

“He took those ninja throwing stars and he pushed me up against the wall and he started throwing them like a knife thrower at the circus – thunk, thunk – so they landed right next to me saying ‘Don’t move’ – thunk – ‘Don’t move,’” Holthouse says. “And then he took a samurai sword off the wall and he drew it out of the sheath and he put the blade to my neck and he said, ‘If you don’t do exactly what I want, I’m going to kill you.’”

Holthouse was raped, and then threatened with death and the death of his family if he ever told anyone. After a state of shock, Holthouse quickly realized what happened, but he didn’t know what to call it.

“I didn’t have a word for what had happened to me. To go back to McGruff – McGruff had never taught me about ‘safe touch’ and ‘unsafe touch,’ or ‘good secrets’ and ‘bad secrets.’ If I had even been able to come forward and say, ‘That thing we talked about in school – that happened to me.’ I didn’t need any graphic terminology. I just needed a few words and the invitation to speak them,’” Holthouse says.

He says if Erin’s Law had been in effect before he was raped, he might have never been assaulted.

“Perpetrators of these crimes, they rely on shame and silence. They rely on our collective conspiracy of denial and silence about this. And if that silence had already been shattered, which educating every kid in a public school statewide will do, he might have thought that he couldn’t get away with it,” Holthouse says.

But he says he can’t know that for sure. What he does know is that Erin’s Law will prevent kids from being sexually assaulted. He says schools need to have curriculum and talk openly about it.

“I’m not just speaking on my own behalf. I’m speaking for tens of thousands of Alaska children and the adults they’ll grow up to be. And what I’m saying is, ‘Help us,’” Holthouse says.

Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr introduced the bill last year and it appeared poised to become law. Then-Gov. Sean Parnell supported Erin’s Law, the Senate passed it and the House version had 21 co-sponsors. But the bill got stuck in committee.

This year, there are four identical Erin’s Law bills – two from Republicans and two from Democrats. And Gov. Bill Walker wants it on his desk. Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner’s versionwas the first to get a hearing in Senate Education.

Tarr hopes the bill will pass this session. She understands some lawmakers are uncomfortable with Erin’s Law being a requirement, but she says there are likely community resources and private dollars available.

“We approached the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Children’s Trust, Mat-Su Health Foundation and just put the idea out there of would they be a resource for helping implement a curriculum and they all responded in a positive way,” Tarr says.

Erin’s Law has passed in 20 states and is pending in 21 others, including Alaska.

Lisa Phu is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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