"This is teaching kids personal body safety:" Sexual abuse survivor working to get Erin's Law passed in Wisconsin
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and one woman is using her own childhood trauma to advocate for others.
Erin Merryn is fighting to make sure children in every state know the warning signs of sexual abuse. She was sexually assaulted multiple times as a child by people she knew. The first time, she was in kindergarten. Her best friend's uncle inappropriately touched her at a sleepover.
"In the middle of the night, I wake up to him walking into the bedroom. He told me to be quiet, don't tell anyone. So I didn't. I didn't tell anyone."
The next time, it was by her own cousin at her grandparent's summer home in Lake Geneva.
"He was the brother figured I trusted, I loved, that all of a sudden betrayed me."
The abuse lasted for years. She recounts what happened in a journal: "I sobbed the whole way home. I was never warned about my own family. They don't teach you that in school."
Erin finally broke her silence in 6th grade. Her abuser confessed, was arrested, and went through the juvenile system. He got counseling but never served jail time. It took her years, but Erin has moved on. Now, she's using her trauma to change lives.
"My purpose is now to proect kids from what I wasn't protected from as a child. Giving them the voice that I never had."
For 8 years, she's been advocating for what has become known as Erin's Law. It passed in her home state of Illinois in 2013. Under the law, teachers are required to teach sexual abuse education to children starting in Kindergarten.
"This is not sex, this is not sex education. This is teaching kids personal body safety," Merryn said. "Erin’s law requires we teach kids once a year safe touch, unsafe touch, safe secrets, unsafe secrets, how to speak up and tell a trusted adult if this is happening, and keep telling until the abuse stops."
Erin's Law has passed in 33 states not including Wisconsin, but there is an effort to get the bill passed. Representative John Spiros co-authored the bi-partisan bill.
"I really believe this is a common sense law," said Representative Spiros. "There was a lot of enthusiasm to get this passed last session."
It has stalled in committee twice and never had a public hearing. Representative Spiros says that may be due to a mandate.
"I don't believe there's anybody opposed to this bill. Whenever you do anything from an education standpoint, a mandate, people really have a tough time with that. I would like to see this one get passed at some point," Representative Spiros said.
Representative Spiros says he plans to bring the bill back next session. As for Erin, passing the law in Wisconsin would hold a special significance.
"I've always said my two important states of passing this are Illinois and my parents upstairs."
To learn more about Erin's law, click here.