Sexual assault survivor behind ‘Erin’s Law’ backs bipartisan legislation

LANSING – Erin Merryn, a sexual abuse survivor from Illinois, told Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday about her experience and the need for bipartisan legislation to increase education and training in an effort to help prevent the sexual abuse of children.

“As a child I was educated in school on tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, stranger danger and drugs, but when I was sexually abused, I listened to the only message I was being given – and that came from my abusers to stay silent,” said Merryn, whose mother grew up in Paw Paw. “Educating kids on sexual abuse prevention in schools is the best way to empower kids to tell so abuse won’t go on for years the way it did for me. My voice was silenced. I am on a mission to make sure no other child has their voice silenced and innocence stolen the way mine was.”

Sens. John Proos, Judy Emmons and Rebekah Warren sponsored Senate Bills 1112-1114 to require school boards to adopt and implement policies addressing child sexual abuse and create a one-time Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children to make recommendations on how to best prevent child sexual abuse in Michigan.

“We must do everything we can to protect the innocence of childhood, where a child can learn, play and enjoy life – free of the cruelest realities of adulthood,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “It is estimated that one of every four girls and one of seven boys are sexually abused by age 18, and the child knows their abuser in more than 90 percent of these cases. This initiative is about helping to end that cycle through education and empowerment.”

The measures are named “Erin’s Law” after Merryn, whose advocacy in her home state led to the passage of a similar law there in 2011. After going public about abuse by a family member, Merryn made it her mission to try to ensure that children have the age-appropriate education to recognize and talk about sexual abuse.

“As a mother and grandmother, I applaud Erin for her courage and dedication in working to help parents and children get the tools and support they need to identify abuse and get help,” said Emmons, R-Sheridan. “Many child sexual abuse cases go unreported because the survivors are afraid to come forward. Erin’s Law is about eliminating that fear and ending the abuse.”

Similar laws have been enacted in Maine, Indiana and Missouri, and legislation has been introduced in several other states, including Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania.

After hearing from Merryn, the Michigan Senate approved the bills.

“Recent events around the country have highlighted the importance of increased awareness of child sexual abuse,” said Warren, D-Ann Arbor. “This legislation will not only educate and encourage our children to speak up, but it also ensures that parents and school personnel have the training they need to spot warning signs and report incidents.”

Under SBs 1112-1114, schools could adopt age-appropriate curriculum, train school personnel on child sexual abuse, and adopt policies concerning informing parents on the warning signs of abuse. Parents would be made aware of the curriculum and be able to “opt out” if they did not want their child involved.

For more about Erin’s story, visit her website at www.erinmerryn.net.

Print-quality photographs are available by visiting Sen. Proos’ website at: www.SenatorJohnProos.com. Click on “Photowire.”

Audio comments about Erin’s Law by Proos and Emmons are available on the Senate Republican webpage at www.misenategop.com. Click on “Podcasts.”

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