To the Editor:
We all owe a great debt to a woman whom many of us never met. You might not know her name, but if you have a child who attends a public school, we hope you have heard of her law. Erin Merryn is a survivor of child sexual abuse, and her tireless work led to the passage of Erin’s Law in Illinois five years ago. Erin’s Law mandates all students in public schools receive at least annual education on child sexual abuse and body safety. The education is age-appropriate and progressive, so students learn more each year about how to keep themselves safe.
We cannot sweep child sexual abuse under the rug. You only have to turn on the news to be reminded of the dangers in our world. From the recent trial of Larry Nassar, the sports physician who abused hundreds of young gymnasts, to the cases we see in our own community, we know dangers are present. We want families, schools and communities to be safe places for our children. We want every child to grow up happy and healthy. The way to achieve this is not to ignore the risks, but have open and frank discussions with children about consent, body autonomy, and safety.
We have said it before, and we’ll say it again: Abuse thrives in silence. Erin Merryn was afraid for many years. She was afraid to speak out and afraid she wouldn’t be believed. Part of her deepest motivation was for children to come forward and tell an adult about the abuse they’ve endured, knowing they would be heard, believed and helped. We at Safe Passage are proud to be a part of that effort. We are proud to work with local schools to provide the mandated child abuse prevention education.
If you lived through abuse as a child, or if you have a child who has lived through abuse, know help is available. No matter when the abuse occurred, you can call our hotline at 815-756-5228 for free and confidential services, and to take the first steps toward healing.
We are grateful to Erin Merryn for her advocacy and tireless work on behalf of all children. We look forward to the day when Erin’s Law is passed in all 50 states, and we are proud of Illinois for leading the nation in signing it. We work toward a world where no child is ever abused, and we will speak out until that world becomes a reality.
Mary Ellen Schaid
Executive director of Safe Passage