Erin’s Law founder speaks at First Annual Go Blue for Kids event

(ROCKWALL, TX – May 5, 2017) The Children’s Advocacy Center for Rockwall County invited folks to don their best blue jeans and jewels for the First Annual Go Blue for Kids Banquet held on Friday, April 28, at The Springs Event Venue in Terrell.

The event included dinner and dancing, blue frosting cupcakes for dessert, and a live and silent auction. All proceeds went towards helping the Rockwall CAC to provide full services to children in the county who have suffered physical and sexual abuse.

The Rockwall CAC welcomed a presentation by special guest speaker Erin Merryn, the catalyst behind Erin’s Law which mandates the teaching of personal body safety in public schools.

Merryn – an internationally known activist against child sexual abuse and published author – grew up in Chicago and was sexually abused for the first time as a Kindergartner by a relative of her best friend during a sleepover. She was raped by this same man a year later, and also endured continual sexual abuse at the hands of her cousin for a year and a half which began when she was 11. Merryn said the perpetrators told her the same thing after they abused her – don’t tell anyone, keep it a secret. She said this was about the only education on the subject she received at the time, that she was never taught anything about personal body safety in school, only never to trust a stranger. But the reality, she said, is that in many child sexual abuse situations, the abuser is not a stranger.

“At that point in my life as a little first grader, all I learned from the police officer known as “Officer Friendly” from the local police department was not to talk to strangers. But the reality is that 92 percent of the time children are sexually abused by someone they know and trust,” Merryn said.

Not knowing who to tell and fearing that no one would believe her if she did tell them, Merryn decided to write about the terrifying sexual abuse experiences she suffered in a diary. She finally broke her silence when she learned her younger sister was being sexually abused by the same cousin who had been abusing her. Merryn recalled the day her parents sought help for her and her sister at a local Children’s Advocacy Center.

“Over the course of an hour I told the counselor everything that had happened to me. But I couldn’t look at her. I was too ashamed. So I faced this huge mirror while I talked to her. The more I talked to this woman, the more relief I felt. I feared she might be on my cousin’s side and try to interrogate me, when the reality is she was just trying to get my sister and I justice. She was trying to lead us onto that pathway of healing,” she said.

Merryn soon found the solace and comfort she needed when she joined a group counseling program at the CAC, where she and eight other girls who had also been sexually abused could talk through their experiences together.

“It was through that whole process that I really did find my voice. The Children’s Advocacy Center laid the foundation refueling my life and I would not be standing here today had it not been for all the people and support at the Children’s Advocacy Center.”

Merryn published her first book – “Stolen Innocence” –  as a senior in high school. The book is a memoir containing the entries of the diary she kept from when she was 10 years old all the way through high school, and tells of the traumatic sexual abuse she endured in that time. She then made it her mission to put a face and a voice on child sexual abuse, traveling around the country and the world to educate others on the subject. “I found myself in churches, high schools, at community events. But the one place that is my favorite to speak at is a Children’s Advocacy Center.”

Merryn has spoken at six CACs in the state of Texas, and at more than 60 CACs across the country.

“It was the first place where I found my voice, and it was because of the place where I found my voice that I wanted to make sure that every child in America has a voice.

“I was reading that childhood diary of mine and it said, ‘As I sat on the way home, over and over again I thought about what just happened. We are taught by Officer Friendly not to answer the door when our parents are gone, not to talk to strangers. I was never warned about my own family. They don’t teach us that in school.’ I remember reading that last line, and I reached out to my state lawmakers and I said we need to teach this in schools.”

Merryn has been to states all around the country introducing legislation which would eventually become known as Erin’s Law. The legislation requires all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program which teaches:

  • Students in grades pre-K – 12th grade, age-appropriate techniques to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult
  • School personnel all about child sexual abuse
  • Parents and guardians the warning signs of child sexual abuse, plus needed assistance, referral or resource information to support sexually abused children and their families

According to erinslaw.org, Erin’s Law has been passed in 26 states so far, including Texas, and is pending in 17 additional states.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed April as National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. The color blue became associated with child abuse prevention after a blue ribbon campaign to prevent child abuse began in 1989. The campaign is a memorial to children who have suffered from abuse and neglect.

Story and photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.

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