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updated: 1/4/2013 4:27 PM

Schaumburg woman's legislation passed; schools told to act

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  • Erin Merryn

      Erin Merryn

 

Time and time again, Erin Merryn was told it couldn't be done.

Having a conversation about childhood sexual abuse was taboo enough; requiring schools to implement curriculum on the subject -- through yet another unfunded mandate -- was too tall an order.

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"I faced a lot of skeptics who didn't believe we could get this done, but I knew in my heart we would," Merryn, 27, said Friday.

The Schaumburg woman's dedication paid off Thursday when the Illinois Senate voted 51-1 in favor of Erin's Law, which extends state-mandated sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education from secondary schools to include elementary and middle schools. It passed 97-10 in the state House of Representatives last month.

Merryn is hopeful Gov. Pat Quinn will sign the bill at the Children's Advocacy Center in Hoffman Estates. That's where Merryn "found her voice" after being raped by a friend's uncle and repeatedly molested by an older cousin.

"To me, that would really bring this journey full-circle," Merryn said.

Quinn has been a vocal supporter of Merryn's, having already signed into law an earlier version of Erin's Law. Drafted in 2010, it formed a task force to come up with recommendations on reducing child sexual abuse.

The 19-member team last year released a 30-page report that outlines research and best practices. According to the group, one in four girls and one in six boys will be the victim of child sexual abuse by their 18th birthday.

Merryn, who testified in Springfield for the fourth time on Thursday, said she was grilled by a few legislators with concerns because the state was requiring schools to take action without providing funding. But most were won over when she explained relatively simple ways schools could incorporate various age-appropriate programs. She said she believes the measure will save money in the long run.

"I had behavioral and emotional problems because of what I went through," Merryn said. "I acted out, I had tantrums, I was pulled out of class and even had to be held back a year. We can prevent some of that."

Five states have adopted the first version of Erin's Law, but Illinois is the first to pass the bill with the mandate. Ten more states plan to introduce the updated legislation this year.

Merryn, who quit her counseling job in 2010 to work full-time on the legislation, will spend the year traveling to various state capitals, planning her own wedding and finishing her third book. "An Unimaginable Act: One Woman's Quest to Overcome and Prevent Childhood Sexual Abuse" is due out in November.

"It seems like I'm always on the phone with either legislators, my editor or getting bids for wedding bands and photographers," Merryn said. "I'm swamped, but this is my mission in life."

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