CORNWALL – A strong-willed crusader against child abuse is hoping to bring her fight to Canada to eventually establish mandatory sexual abuse prevention programs.
Erin Merryn of Chicago, Ill. is the name and face behind Erin’s Law, which has been passed in 21 U.S. states and is being introduced in 22 others.
She was the guest speaker Wednesday morning at the Children’s Treatment Centre Bike-A-Thon Plus Breakfast.
“If you looked at my childhood, it looked picture-perfect. But there were secrets I was keeping as a young child. Secrets no children should be keeping,” Merryn told attendees.
She detailed her painful history of being abused by the uncle of her best friend, Ashley, that started with her first sleepover. “I heard the bedroom door open. Standing there is that uncle of Ashley’s. I assumed this man was just making sure we were both in there asleep, but that wasn’t the case and you all know where this story is going,” she said.
Merryn says she hadn’t been educated to speak up and tell about the abuse so she kept her painful secret. “This man told me to be quiet…don’t tell anyone. So I listened to him because nobody had educated me on not keeping these kinds of secrets.”
Thinking she may be safe with more girls around, Merryn agreed later to another sleepover but that was not the case. “One by one he went down and sexually abused all three of us. You see, with these perpetrators, they don’t have just one victim….as long as they’re getting away with it they have multiple victims.”
“When children suffer through something like this, it’s something they never forget. The trauma stays with them forever.”
Merryn says she was showing all the symptoms of abuse, such as anger and aggression, but “nobody was asking the important questions.”
She says the abuse ended when she moved away but then she fell victim to another sexual perpetrator – an older cousin. The cycle continued for two-and-a-half years.
“Every year as a fifth or sixth-grader we learned ‘stranger danger’…the scary man reaching out and trying to lure you into the car. But it wasn’t strangers that were hurting me…it was two men I knew and trusted,” Merryn said.
She also shared a startling statistic: 93 per cent of child sexual abuse cases are committed by someone in a position of trust.
At the age of 13, Erin finally got the courage to tell her parents after learning her younger sister was being abused by that same cousin.
Erin Merryn detailed the treatment and help she received from the Children’s Advocacy Center, which has 900 locations across the U.S.A. – a safe environment for children to share their stories of abuse.
The center has similar services as the Children’s Treatment Centre in Cornwall, which has helped 2,287 children in SD&G and Akwesasne since its inception 19 years ago. There have been been an average of 120 referrals a year and 52 alone from January to March 2015.
Merryn says life after treatment was not easy with flashbacks of the abuse, nightmares, self-injury and a suicide attempt.
Her therapist suggested writing a letter to her cousin as an exercise but she decided to actually send it to her abuser. “I wanted some type of apology. I never thought I would get it.” But after seven months she got an apology…and she forgave her abuser.
“It’s the best decision I could have ever made. Forgiving him opened up those doors to the peace I longed for – the joy.”
A diary she kept of the secrets of abuse was published in a book called Stolen Innocence. “Staying bitter and angry towards your enemies, only hurts yourself.”
She says the justice system has not given justice to the victims – both her abusers are free men. “If we can’t get justice, why don’t we wake up society to this silent epidemic?”
She says there is mandated curriculum about drugs, such as the DARE program, but not about abuse. “When it came to being abused, the only education I got was from by abusers.”
She left her full-time counseling job to peruse Erin’s Law – an age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 12. She’s been at it for five years with the goal of taking it internationally after she finishes with the 50 U.S. states.
The Bike-A-Thon Plus, one of the major fundraisers for the CTC, is being held Saturday May 23, 2015 at St. Lawrence College.
The CTC is hoping to meet or exceed its goal of $119,000 raised in 2014.