Erin Merryn is clearly someone special.
The 29-year-old Schaumburg woman who has been fighting to keep children safe from sexual abuse didn't stop when she successfully spearheaded passage of legislation that became known as Erin's Law here in Illinois.
In the two years since, she has expanded her reach, has raised her voice and is taking her message global. Fittingly, the protection of children is now an international crusade for Merryn.
What makes her work most amazing is she has taken the personal trauma of being sexually abused as a child, welled up courage that few of us possess and used it to fuel her mission.
"Erin Merryn is a genuine hero and a role model for all of us. ... The highest calling we have is service to others," Gov. Pat Quinn said during a recent Children's Advocacy Center fundraising gala honoring her.
The sad truth is we need the heroics of people like Merryn now more than ever.
The sad truth is despite what Merryn has accomplished, child sexual abuse and exploitation remains an insidious plague in our suburbs, in our society and around the world.
Just in the last few weeks, we've written stories about criminal cases involving child sex abuse and child pornography in Zion, Carol Stream, Grandwood Park and Des Plaines. A criminal case in Elgin involves charges against a former state representative. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet last week released long-confidential files that identified 16 priests with ties to DuPage County accused of sexually abusing minors between the 1950s and 2002.
Statistics show one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
It's tough to imagine a more tragic and unthinkable crime than the sexual abuse of our youngest and most vulnerable.
Merryn's namesake law aims to fight back against a crime that relies on victim silence.
The law requires elementary and middle schools to teach age-appropriate lessons on child sexual abuse and assault. It works to give kids a voice if they become victims of sexual violence, to empower kids on personal body safety.
Merryn is the author of three books and offers tips on how to train teachers or counselors at low cost to school districts.
So far, a dozen states have passed versions of Erin's Law, and its approach has been introduced in another 25 state legislatures.
Trips are planned to carry Merryn's message to Canada and Australia.
That message is clear -- teaching children to speak up, not stay silent, when they are threatened or victimized.
It's up to all of us to join Merryn in her fight, to watch, listen and be aware -- to ensure child sexual abuse and exploitation is never again a silent crime.