A woman from Illinois behind a crusade to have sexual abuse prevention programs in schools is hoping her mission will branch out into Canada.
Erin Merryn, 30, of Chicago is behind Erin's Law, a directive passed in 21 U.S. states and introduced or pending in 22 others. She was the guest speaker Wednesday April 22, 2015 at the Children's Treatment Centre Bike-A-Thon Plus Kick Off Breakfast.
"If you looked at my childhood, it looked picture-perfect. But there were secrets I was keeping as a young child. Secrets no children should be keeping," Merryn told an audience of roughly 600.
She detailed her painful history of being abused by her best friend's uncle that started with her first sleepover. Merryn says she had never been taught to speak up and reveal the abuse she suffered so she kept it a secret. The abuse ended temporarily after she moved away. She then fell victim to another sexual perpetrator - an older cousin.
"When children suffer through something like this, it's something they never forget. The trauma stays with them forever."
Merryn also talked about treatment she received from the Children's Advocacy Center, which has 900 locations across the United States. It's a safe environment for children to share their stories of abuse.
The center has similar services to the Children's Treatment Centre in Cornwall, which has helped 2,287 children in SD&G and Akwesasne since it started 19 years ago. There's been an average of 120 referrals a year and 52 alone from January to March 2015.
Merryn says many schools have mandatory fire and emergency drills and they have anti-drug programming but there is a lack of sexual abuse prevention training. That's where Erin's Law comes in.
She left her full-time counseling job five years ago to lobby for age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 12 in American schools. She's been touring the U.S. urging lawmakers to pass it. Her goal is to go international as well, including Canada.
Her ordeal has also been turned into another positive - three books - entitled Stolen Innocence, Living For Today and An Unimaginable Act
The Bike-A-Thon Plus, one of the major fundraisers for the CTC, is being held Saturday May 23, 2015 at St. Lawrence College. The CTC is hoping to meet or exceed its goal of $119,000 raised in 2014.