DENVER (CBS4)– A bill being debated at the state Capitol would teach children as young as five about sexual abuse. Some lawmakers call it the biggest public health issue that no one is talking about and they believe it’s time children learned about the threat in school.

An estimated one in five children will be sexually abused, 90 percent of them by someone they know.

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“Every step of the way of this journey has been really difficult and really transformative,” said abuse survivor Jenny Stith.

Stith was sexually abused as a child and testified before lawmakers on Wednesday. It was the first time she talked about what happened publicly.

“I was taught never to talk to strangers as a child, but never taught that sexual abuse would likely happen to me by someone I know,” said Stith.

Stith is supporting the bill that would teach students about sexual assault in the classroom, including rape and incest. The bill would create a position within the Colorado School Safety Resource Center to develop age appropriate curriculum and training for schools.

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“Is there anything more important than the safety of a child? How can a child learn if they are holding this secret?” asked Sen. Linda Newell, a Democrat representing Littleton.

(credit: ThinkStock)

(credit: ThinkStock)

Under the bill sponsored by Newell, schools would not be required to participate. Stith hopes most will so other abuse victims will get the help she didn’t.

“When a child in that situation without being prepared for it, it’s too late because it’s overwhelming, it’s scary, it’s confusing,” said Stith. “At the end of the day I look at child sexual abuse prevention and intervention as a social justice issue and the problem is when we can’t have that conversation with each other and with our kids, we literally push this issue onto the shoulders of children.”

The Senate Education Committee will hear the bill on Thursday. Republicans are expected to kill the measure, in part because of the cost, $85,000.

Stith heads up an organization called WINGS that works with adult survivors, many of whom suffer from substance abuse, eating disorders and domestic violence. Problems Stith believes cost the State of Colorado more, an estimated $21 billion.

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