HOFFMAN ESTATES – Sexual abuse victim Erin Merryn scored an important victory in her campaign to require schools to have sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness programs on Thursday, when Gov. Pat Quinn signed Erin's Law in her home state of Illinois.
The law requires all Illinois public schools to have age-appropriate curriculum for grades pre-kindergarten through high school.
"We're talking about a silent epidemic," Merryn, 27, of Schaumburg, said in an interview before the bill signing at a children's advocacy center in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates.
"We live in a world where we want to look the other way and pretend this is not going on," Merryn said.
Illinois joins four other states that have already passed versions of Erin's Law — Indiana, Maine, Michigan and Missouri.
Quinn, who has invited Merryn to a February national meeting of governors to talk about the issue, said the law would "save and protect the lives of countless children."
Merryn says she was abused by a neighbor when she was between the ages of 6 and 8 and then by an older cousin when she was between ages of 11 and 13. She said children, even from a young age, should be made aware of what is considered inappropriate behavior, know that they're not to blame and be encouraged to come forward and tell their parents or teachers if they are experiencing abuse.
She quit her job as a social worker three years ago to campaign full time on the issue and has written two books about her experience.
"Both of these men told me this is our little secret, no one will believe you," Merryn said. "So that's the only message I was getting as a child."
Many children are warned about strangers but are not told that someone close to them could harm them, Merryn said.
"We teach kids and parents about stranger danger ... (but) 93 percent of the time children are being hurt by somebody they know," she said.