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

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Senate panel approves measures to help protect children from sexual abuse

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.”

Merryn spoke before the Senate Health Policy Committee. Committee Chair Sen. Jim Marleau thanked her for her testimony.

“Erin Merryn is a very courageous young woman. I cannot commend her enough for the work she has done in her home state and throughout the country to educate children as well as adults on how to prevent child sexual abuse,” said Marleau, R-Lake Orion. “It is critical that we do all we can at the state level to help protect our most vulnerable residents from this evil. We need to heed Erin’s advice.”

Merryn spoke in support of Senate Bills 1112-1114, which would require school boards to adopt and implement policies addressing child sexual abuse and create a one-time Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children task force to make recommendations on how to best prevent child sexual abuse in Michigan.

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.

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.

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.

After hearing from Merryn, the Health Policy Committee approved the bills, which now head to the full Senate for consideration.

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

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