The statistics are deeply troubling. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be the victim of child sexual abuse by the time they reach 18. Ninety-three percent of these victims are abused by someone they know who is in a position of trust or authority. However, only 1 out of 10 victims ever disclose their abuse.
Erin Merryn was one of these children. A Schaumburg native, she was sexually abused as a child between the ages of 6 and 8 by a friend’s uncle. She was again abused from age 11 to 13 by her cousin. Both of her attackers threatened her and told her no one would believe her if she spoke out.
Now 27, Merryn was in high school when she confronted her cousin about what he had done to her. After he asked for her forgiveness, she realized that she could transform her hurt and anger into something positive by using her own experiences to raise awareness about this issue. After publishing two books that told her story, she focused on becoming a vocal advocate for other abused children.
Three years ago she quit her job as a youth and family counselor to start a national campaign to enact laws mandating that all students –pre-school through 12th grade—be educated about sexual-abuse prevention as part of the school curriculum. The goal of this law – now known as “Erin’s Law” – is to help give young victims a voice by teaching them to speak up if they are assaulted or sexually abused. The law supports the belief that from a young age children should be told they are not to blame for abuse and encouraged to come forward and tell their parents or teachers if they are victims.
Recently, Governor Pat Quinn signed Public Act 97-1147, making Illinois the fifth state to enact “Erin’s Law.” Gov. Quinn signed this legislation after a task force created by the General Assembly completed an in-depth 10-month investigation of the issue, which included drafting age-appropriate curricula. The law goes into effect immediately, and schools must implement it starting next school year.
Merryn has said that the law’s goal is to empower children to speak up by offering them education through both their school and parents regarding sensitive topics, including teaching children what are ”safe” and “unsafe” touches. Merryn believes that had she herself had such instruction, she would have been spared years of sexual abuse.
After the victory of having the law enacted in her home state, Merryn plans to crisscross the country to push her cause nationwide, working to ensure that the law bearing her name is passed in all 50 states.