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updated: 12/7/2010 8:28 AM

'Erin's Law' right for Illinois, country

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The courage of Erin Merryn is about to pay off.

Last week legislation was approved by the Illinois Senate and sent to Gov. Pat Quinn aimed at preventing child sexual abuse and giving kids a voice if they are a victim.

And Merryn, 25, of Schaumburg, is the inspiration and the driver of getting the bill, known as "Erin's Law," to the governor's desk.

Her story is tragic and unthinkable. But it is also real and, unfortunately, not uncommon. Merryn, who uses her middle name rather than her last name to protect her family, was raped by a neighbor when she was just 6 years old. It continued for two years. Between the ages of 11 and 13 she was abused by a cousin.

Merryn says she would have spoken up earlier about the abuse had the topic been addressed in school.

"Because no one was giving me the messages on how to speak up about sexual abuse, on what safe touch is, on how to put a face and voice on this, I stayed silent and listened to my perpetrators," she told legislators when testifying in committee last month.

The law would create a task force on the topic, charged with coming up with a program for schools to teach young children about the dangers of sexual abuse. Getting that information to kids is crucial.

"It's like Erin said: Kids had tornado training and fire drills but they never learned about safe touch and unsafe touch," said state Rep. Suzie Bassi, a Palatine Republican, and one of the bill's sponsors and a victim of sexual abuse herself. "This gives little ones tools to be able to protect themselves or tell another adult," she told the Daily Herald's Kimberly Pohl.

Quinn has yet to declare his support for the legislation, but his spokeswoman said in a statement that the intent of the bill was an important step forward. We believe Quinn will do the right thing and put "Erin's Law" on the books. It would be a travesty if he did not.

Once that happens and once the task force provides the information, we urge school officials throughout the state to make getting that information to children a priority. While getting children information on sexual abuse is not legally mandatory, we believe it is morally mandatory. There's no excuse for schools not to do so.

Pohl reported in May that one in four girls and one in six boys will be abused before their 18th birthday, according to a Centers for Disease Control study. It was also reported that more than 90 percent of victims know their abusers.

Those are frightening statistics. Once Quinn signs the bill, Merryn will set her sights on Congress passing the same kind of legislation.

We believe suburban congressmen and our two senators need to band together and help her do just that.

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