Guest speaker addresses child sexual abuse

5/5/2013

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

While most kids know what to do in the event of a tornado or fire, or are aware of stranger danger, child sexual abuse isn't something they are taught to deal with in school, but one woman is trying to change all that.

"She took a tragic episode, a traumatic event and turned it into a advocacy for children and a stand against child abuse," said Kelly Robbins, director of Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center, referring to the guest speaker WKAKC sponsored to do a presentation at Scott Community High School Friday.

Erin Merryn, who has been featured on Good Morning America and "Katie," Katie Couric's talk show, as well as in magazines and other publications across the country, is on a mission to get Erin's Law, which will require that education about child sexual abuse be part of every schools' curriculum, passed in all 50 states. On Friday, she shared her own story of sexual abuse with Scott Community High School students.

"It's a silent epidemic going on around our world and right here in Scott City. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Look around. That means there are students in here ... that will be sexually abused," Merryn said. "You don't hear about it. We often look the other way, pretend it's not going on. It's an uncomfortable subject that society doesn't want to face, but I'm trying to change that."

Merryn said her own experiences with sexual abuse, which came at the hands of two different perpetrators, left her with deeply painful emotional wounds.

Her abuse began at the hands of her friend's uncle, when she was 6 years old.

"I've got this man of authority standing over me, telling me to be quiet, so I didn't say anything. This man proceeded to pull down the sleeping bag and sexually abuse me for the very first time in my life. He left the room afterwards and didn't tell me to keep this a secret, but did I go home the next day and tell somebody? Did I tell my mom and dad? Did I tell my teacher? No. I was utterly confused because I didn't understand what this man had just done. It didn't make sense to me, but I knew it felt wrong (but) I kept silent," Merryn said.

The abuse continued and intensified until the man raped Merryn just prior to her seventh birthday.

"He warned me before he left, 'Don't you dare tell anybody. If you tell anybody, I know where you live. I'll come get you at night.' That put fear into me. I started fearing going to bed at night," she said.

After that, Merryn began experiencing behavior problems, which she said were the warning signs that no one recognized.

"I was labeled behaviorally and emotionally disturbed as a young kid," she said. "I had all the warning signs, but no one was asking those important questions, like, 'Erin, has anyone ever done anything appropriate to you? Do you know what a safe touch is, an unsafe touch. A safe secret, an unsafe secret?' No one was giving me that vocabulary."

The man continued to abuse her until she was 8 years old, when her family moved away from the area.

"Little did I realize that moving was going to get me that much closer to the next perpetrator in my life," she said.

Between the ages of 8 and 10, Merryn said she began to feel once again, like the sweet, spunky girl that she was before the abuse, but when she was 11, an older male cousin began sexually abusing her. It happened over a two-year period and he kept Merryn quiet by telling her that no one would believe her.

Merryn endured the abuse until she discovered that he had also been molesting her little sister, who was also being kept quiet by the cousin.

"I was filled with so much anger and rage," Merryn said. "But there was one positive thing with my sister coming forward — two against one — somebody has to believe us."

The girls told their parents, who were devastated, asking themselves how they missed the signs.

When confronted, the cousin denied it at first and later confessed, but ultimately only served six months of probation.

Throughout her young life, Merryn kept a diary, her only outlet since she was afraid to tell anyone about what had happened to her. She eventually made the diary into a book, called "Stolen Innocence," which was published when she was 18 years old.

She recently wrote another book, "Living for Today," and continues to testify before lawmakers in an attempt to get Erin's Law passed.

Erin has successfully gotten the law passed in seven states and 10 more are currently introducing it. She said she will not stop until it has been passed in all 50 states.

"Now we just need to get Kansas on board. I've been writing senators, legislators, your representatives. I've been writing them trying to get them to pass this law," she said.

In a separate interview, Merryn said she hasn't gotten anywhere with her attempts to reach the Kansas Legislature.

"I literally go to the senators and representatives on education committees, because that's where it usually ends up in most states, and I've reached out to Kansas since 2010 and no one has responded, but as I tell every state, 'I will pound down your doors until you answer me,'" Merryn said.

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