As a child, I learned how to duck and cover in case of a nuclear attack. My mother told me not to run with scissors, lest I “put out” my eyes. And instructional films, similar to this one, warned me not to walk off with strangers.
Why these strangers were coming around in the first place, or what could happen to me if I succumbed to an invitation, I had no idea.
Erin Merryn aims to change all that with a simple, memorable phrase: “Get away, tell today.” Merryn, who testified before the Illinois Legislature in 2010, states her case eloquently:
Currently in the state of Illinois, schools are mandated to do tornado, bus, and fire drills with students a certain amount of times a year. As a child I never had to take cover because of a real tornado, I never had to stop, drop, and roll or run out of a burning building. I never had to evacuate a school bus due to an emergency, but I had the knowledge to know what to do if any of those ever happened. When I was raped weeks before my 7th birthday and was molested from [ages] 11-13 by my older teenage cousin I DID NOT know what to do because I was never educated in school on sexual abuse so I stayed silent under their control and power. I was warned never to go look for the lost puppy when the stranger approached, I was warned never to take candy from a stranger, but it was not strangers that stole my innocence and took my childhood from me. These were monsters I knew. Monsters no one warned me about and 80-90% of the time when a child is sexually abused it is by someone they know and trust.
Last October Merryn appeared on Oprah:
On Feb. 14, 2011, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed Erin’s Law SB2843. The law requires age-appropriate curriculum for pre-K through 5th-grade students and training for school staff on warning signs of sexual abuse. (Now Merryn is fighting for a federal law. Her petition is here.)
The necessity of this kind of training is underscored by methods that molesters use. Sen. Scott Brown recently revealed that he was molested by a camp counselor at age 10. The counselor warned Brown not to tell anyone or he would be hurt “badly.” And no one would believe him anyway.
Such tactics are common among sexual abusers of children. Some sobering statistics:
- 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
- 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
- 1 in 5 children are solicited sexually while on the Internet.
- Approximately 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse (about a third of them by a family member) reside in America.
I’m sure it was not easy for Sen. Brown to go public with this information. No matter how exalted one’s current position — and senator of Massachusetts is pretty damn high — such admissions still require courage. Due to the just-world fallacy (the belief that people get what they deserve) the temptation to blame the victim remains strong.
My opinion of Sen. Scott Brown just went up 1,000 percent. As more people in prominent places come forward, perhaps we can at last remove the stigma from this crime that thrives in secrecy and withers in sunlight.
As for Erin Merryn, she could have left her past behind. Many people do. The fact that she chose to press on, bear witness to what she calls a “silent epidemic” and thereby help millions of other children in generations to come is an example of true leadership. And true love.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2011]