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Could Erin Merryn’s Law Help Prevent WV Child Abuse?

Child abuse survivor and nationally recognized author and activist Erin Merryn says West Virginia should teach children not to keep silent when they are abused. PHOTO by Emily Chittenden-Laird.
Child abuse survivor and nationally recognized author and activist Erin Merryn says West Virginia should teach children not to keep silent when they are abused. PHOTO by Emily Chittenden-Laird.
November 18, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia children's advocates have heard from a nationally recognized child abuse survivor and activist about a good way to prevent other kids from being hurt. Erin Merryn was sexually abused by both a neighbor and a cousin when she was a child.

After disclosing her abuse, Merryn has made it her mission to advocate for legislation requiring that children have age-appropriate education to recognize and talk about sexual abuse. Her efforts have led to passage of a version of “Erin’s Law” in several states, including her home state of Illinois. She says it could help prevent abuse here.

"If we could give that one kid a voice, it could put a stop to that perpetrator victimizing numerous kids," Merryn explained. "It's giving these perpetrators the message that 'you can't silence kids anymore. Kids are going to learn how to speak up and tell, so think before you act.'"

Merryn says she’s like to see the state legislature mandate age appropriate lessons in every grade. She says doing so is not expensive or controversial, and assures critics that it is not sex education. But she says she wishes she had been told to speak up and not told to keep her abuse hidden.

"I didn't get that message to speak up and tell," she said. "If kids got that message that they're going to be believed, kids would be a lot more apt to be 'oh, well I've been told to tell this, not keep it a secret.'"

Some have questioned if the curriculum is appropriate. Merryn said others just don't want to face the fact that it's needed. It's just as necessary as other things we teach our children, maybe more, she stressed.

"Kids need to be educated the same way we educate them on tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, stranger danger, bully intervention. This is just as important," she said.

Merryn was in Charleston last week, meeting with advocates, child protective workers and police officers.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV