“A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him” – George Orwell. This quote is so fitting to the young lady I am about to discuss that it is as if Mr. Orwell himself had her in mind as he spoke these words. Erin Merryn, from Schaumburg, Illinois is an author and activist dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. Erin was sexually abused as a child herself for many years by a family friend. Turning her struggles into strength, Erin is now using her past hardships as fuel to help others. She has created “Erin’s Law” which mandates every public school (grades 1-6) in the states in which this law has passed educate their students about child sexual abuse in order to prevent it, as well as,  help children who may be currently victimized to know how to speak up and get help. Erin says even just teaching children that this is not normal and is exceedingly wrong is helpful because many child victims, including herself, do not recognize that this is something that needs to be stopped. Many times it is a family member or friend who is doing the abusing and convinces the young child that this is normal. Unfortunately, many children do not feel they can speak up or know how. Erin’s Law has been passed in eight states so far, including Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Main, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Nevada. Erin’s goal is to get Erin’s Law passed in all 50 states.

Childhelp, a non-profit devoted to helping children who have been victims of abuse and neglect has teamed up with Erin to provide the curriculum for these schools to teach about sexual abuse. The program used is called “Speak Up Be Safe” which teaches children who may be victims to recognize what is happening to them and speak up. It is also helpful for other adults or children who may notice the signs of child sexual abuse and intervene to help. The program is done in a way that is tremendously aware of the student’s cognitive ability to take in the information properly and understand it. Each grade level is taught the material in a grade appropriate manner.

Latrice Hickman, MPA Vice President, Program Operations and Quality Improvement & Compliance from Childhelp was able to answer some questions regarding effects of children’s imaginations being stunted, how this affects their futures and what we can do to remedy the situation. In her response she stated that depending on when the imagination was suppressed in the child’s developmental stage has a huge impact on the outcome and severity of the suppression and the earlier on the heavier the impact. She went on the say that “a small impact can result in poor communication skills, shyness, decreased emotional responses –as appropriate to age and situation. Extreme cases can include severe isolation, depression, and social norm contradictions”. It affects their futures in many ways – relationships and education are usually very hard for them in the future. Prevention through education will help children to avoid traumatic experiences and their imaginations can bloom.

In addition to her law, and speaking out to raise awareness, Erin has also written three books on the topic, “Stolen Innocence”, “Living For Today” and “An Unimaginable Act”. To quote Erin “You can’t change the past so change something you can…the future!”. Erin is unquestionably living up to her words and an inspiration to all. Thank you Erin, your light shines bright in this sometimes dreadful world.

Photo by Glamour Magazine

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