Updated: March 4, 2013 6:39AM
Erin Merryn was sexually abused through much of her childhood by adults who coerced her silence by fear and intimidation. She suffered in silence until 14 years ago when, at age 13, she could not be silent any longer.
Thanks to Merryn, any child being so abused in Illinois hopefully will realize that silence is not an option. On Jan. 24, Gov. Pat Quinn signed “Erin’s Law,” making Illinois one of five states to require sexual abuse education and prevention in public schools from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. Previously, it was required only in high school.
We cheer Merryn’s crusade for children and applaud Illinois legislators for passing the law. They did not contribute money to help schools implement the program, but given the state’s sad financial condition we’ll accept the benefits of a good first step and hope for funding later.
The five Erin’s Laws in existence, and 15 more being pushed in other states, are testament to the dedication of Merryn, a Schaumburg native, who quit her job to work full time on the measures that have become a national movement.
School districts must decide how to adopt the law, either through existing curriculum or by training teachers and counselors on how to educate students about sex abuse.
The mandated program is a new direction for children. Abused children often have not known where to seek help, especially if the abuser was a family member. On her own, what would a 6-year-old know about avoiding abuse or how to report it?
Now, public schools will try to guarantee that no child suffers in silence. First, children will learn clearly that they are not to blame. Such false shame has helped keep sexual predators hidden.
We’re especially pleased that the new law applies to very young children. At the Children’s Advocacy Center in Hoffman Estates where Merryn was first counseled, 22 percent of the clients are 5 or younger and 37 percent are from 6 to 12.
Think of the damage done, of the sorrowful silence, and be encouraged that, over time, this law will make that less likely.