From Silence to Strength: The Passing of Erin’s Law

Aug 21st, 1970

By: Erin Leffew, MA, Program Coordinator (Prevention & Education) Erin Merryn’s abuse began when she was six years old at the hands of an adult neighbor, who brutally raped her. “It was so brutal I thought I was dying. I remember being so utterly confused as I cried as to why he was smiling back at me,” she says of that first assault. She was threatened into silence, and the abuse continued until she was eight and a half and moved with her family. However, her escape from sexual abuse was short-lived, and from eleven to thirteen, a family member repeatedly sexually abused Erin. Once again, she remained silent, except for a diary that she published as a high school senior and called Stolen Innocence. Erin decided at an early age to dedicate herself to ending child sexual abuse, and didn’t let these experiences hold her back. She went on to get her Master’s in social work and publish two more books, Living for Today and An Unimaginable Act. Erin has also been traveling the country to speak about this silent evil that robs our children of their innocence and ability to choose, and she has been interviewed by an impressive list of media outlets. Moreover, she was also awarded Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year 2012 and the Daily Herald’s 2010 Newsmaker of the Year award. In January 2010, she pursued Erin’s Law in Illinois, which passed in the Senate in May 2010 and the House in November 2010. On February 14th, 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed the first version of Erin’s Law, which created a task force to determine what needed to be taught in Illinois schools to children regarding sexual abuse and how it should be taught. The second version was signed on January 24th, 2013 and requires all Illinois public schools to teach sexual abuse prevention. Since then, nineteen states have passed Erin’s Law and eighteen more have introduced or are introducing it, including Maryland[1]. While sexual abuse prevention is required, the Task Force did not chose any one specific prevention curriculum; however, they did recommend a series of core components that schools should use to create effective and comprehensive programs for pre-k through fifth grade students. Per their recommendations, programs should teach students how to recognize child sexual abuse, reduce their vulnerability, and report abuse. Sessions on evidence-based curriculums should ideally be at least four annually and build on the skills learned in the previous year. Discussion, modeling, and role-play are encouraged to create effective, active learning. Teachers, school counselors, outside agency prevention educators, and others should all be involved in delivering prevention programs. Evaluation should be done of programs with measurable outcomes. Programs should also be culturally sensitive and contextually adaptable. Going beyond just the students, schools should also provide training for teachers and staff on how to work with students regarding child sexual abuse and handling disclosures and reporting. Since parents play such an important part in prevention, programs need to include a component that encourages parental involvement and teaches parents about child sexual abuse and how to discuss it with their children[2]. A more in-depth list of the components of Erin’s Law can be found here. With the speed at which states have been adopting this important law that protects our youth, it will hopefully be in every state in the near future, including Maryland. MCASA's colleagues at the Maryland Children's Alliance have expressed interest in pursuing an Erin's Law approach and we look forward to continuing to work together in our efforts to stop child sexual abuse. [1] “Erin Merryn.” [2] “The Key Components of Erin’s Law.” Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois.

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