Erin Merryn's Law would mandate child sex abuse education

October 26, 2011

SYRACUSE, N.Y. --"My innocence was killed, my childhood was taken. My voice was silenced. And I lived in that silence," Erin Merryn said.

Merryn says starting when she was six, she was sexually abused by a neighbor, then at 11 by an older cousin.

"(It) brings me back to remembering being six-years-old being abused. Now I have somebody I love and trust abusing me," Merryn said.

Merryn didn't tell anyone until she was 13 and she suspected her sister was also being abused. She says she learned in school not to take candy from strangers and to stay away from drugs and alcohol, but nothing about things like inappropriate touching or secrets. Now, at 26, she's working to get a law passed to require child sexual abuse education.

"Where I was failed in my childhood. I don't want other kids to be failed," Merryn said.

Tuesday in Syracuse, Merryn joined Senators David Valesky and Jeff Klein, who are planning to introduce Erin Merryn's Law.

"If we're really going to take this problem seriously, if we're really going to protect our young people and make sure they're not victims of abuse, we need education," Klein said.

"We as legislators have to do everything we can to protect our most precious resource, the children of Central New York and New York State," Valesky said.

The education would start as early as preschool and be age-appropriate. Advocates from agencies like McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Site and Vera House say they work with victims as young as six.

"I think it's important that we get to the younger Kindergarten through second graders so they can understand what self-esteem is about, who are the safe adults to go to," said McMahon Ryan Executive Director Julie Cecile.

"Legislation that requires all schools to give this information to children helps to create a safer society for those who need us most," said Vera House Executive Director Randi Bregman.

Valesky and Klein are sponsoring Erin Merryn's Law as members of the Senate's independent democratic conference, which does not have a counterpart in the Assembly. But the senators say they expect broad support.

"This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue for anyone who cares about kids and children and doing the right thing," Valesky said.

Valesky and Klein say they plan to introduce Erin Merryn's Law when the Senate convenes in January. If passed, they're hoping to have curricula in the schools next year.

Erin Merryn is working to pass her law in all 50 states. So far, it has been adopted in Illinois and Missouri.