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Leaving Child Abuse Fewer Places To Hide

This week the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County will host an event with Erin Merryn - the abuse victim behind the national push for education on the subject. Child advocates say that kind of education is the best way to prevent what happened to Merryn from happening to others.
This week the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County will host an event with Erin Merryn - the abuse victim behind the national push for education on the subject. Child advocates say that kind of education is the best way to prevent what happened to Merryn from happening to others.
September 16, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A new law, and a new education effort started by it, should leave fewer places for child sexual abuse to be hidden in Arkansas, according to children's advocates. Erin's Law, which was enacted here this spring, is starting the process of putting a program about abuse in the schools.

According to Andrew Lentz, forensic interviewer and director of education at the Children's Advocacy Center of Benton County, everyone, especially kids, should learn about abuse and be able to talk about it openly. Lentz said he thinks that will help lead to less abuse, and maybe eventually, none.

"Child sexual abuse especially is only going to happen in private," he said. "We have to be able to talk about it. We can't just live in fear of it or in ignorance of it."

The Children's Advocacy Center of Benton County is bringing Erin Merryn to Rogers on Thursday evening. Merryn, a child-abuse survivor and Glamour magazine's woman of the year, is the "Erin" the law was named for. Erin's Law has passed in seven states since 2010.

Lentz said child sexual abuse is shockingly common in the U.S. He said one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they reach 18, and that education is one of the best tools to stop it.

"It's happening to kids that we go to church with, that live in our neighborhood," he declared. "We have to be able to not only acknowledge it, but to take a stand against it and say that it's unacceptable."

He pointed out that educating kids about abuse is not the same as sex education, and said it has more to do with making kids feel confident that they can speak up for themselves if something bad happens. Lentz said it's very important to reduce the shame and silence that goes with being abused.

"We do want children to know that they can say 'no.' But we don't want to go so far as to make children feel guilty if they didn't say 'no.'"

Part of Erin's Law in Arkansas sets up a task force on putting a child-abuse prevention program in the schools. The first meeting of the task force will actually be Thursday, the same day as Merryn's visit.

More on the event is at goo.gl/cUVapV.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR