Law pushed by area woman goes to Quinn

SPRINGFIELD -- With a signature from Gov. Pat Quinn, Erin Merryn could accomplish one of the goals for which she quit her job and dedicated her time.

Merryn, 25, of Schaumburg, has been pushing a law bearing her name Erin's Law in Illinois all year.

Merryn was sexually abused as a child. This year, she has lobbied hard for the legislation that would create a task force aimed at preventing abuse and allow schools to set up programs to teach young children about the dangers of sexual abuse.

In May, Merryn quit her job at a counseling agency to give talks about her experiences full time.

She says that while children are taught about the dangers of dealing with strangers, they don't find out that in many cases, abusers are family or friends.

“That's one message we fail to teach kids in school,” she said.

“Erin's Law” was approved by the Illinois Senate last week with little debate from lawmakers. Quinn gets final review of the legislation.

“Gov. Quinn supports any measure to protect our children and help educate them about how they can stay safe,” Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said in a statement. “Laws giving schools the means to teach children about the dangers of predators are an important step forward, and Gov. Quinn looks forward to reviewing this legislation.”

Merryn sent Quinn and lawmakers a letter in January detailing her experience being abused by two different relatives at two different stages in her life.

“The truth of the matter is we can never stop child sexual predators,” Merryn wrote in her letter to Quinn. “This evil will always exist and parents cannot have their eyes on their children at all times. While we cannot end this evil, we can give children the knowledge to use their voice, tell an adult, and hopefully escape from being hurt.”

Schools won't be required to teach about sexual abuse under the law. Lawmakers are often skittish about forcing mandates upon local schools without sending money to pay for them.

Still, Merryn is happy the General Assembly approved her plan. And now she'll shift her focus to Congress, asking for similar legislation nationwide.

“I am a very determined woman,” she said.

Though Merryn is from Schaumburg, the sponsors of her legislation are from northwestern Illinois. Merryn was in the small town of Dixon one day, speaking about her story, when the local chief of police was moved by what she said and got her in touch with lawmakers in the area.

State Sen. Tim Bivins, a Dixon Republican, said the same stories Merryn told that day convinced lawmakers in Springfield to support the legislation when she told them at committee hearings in the Capitol.

No lawmaker voted “no” on the legislation at any stage of its movement. Bivins praised Merryn's efforts as the primary reason.

“The hope is that this will give young children the tools they need early enough,” he said.

  Erin Merryn of Schaumburg quit her job and dedicated herself full time to passage of an Illinois law aimed at preventing child sexual abuse. The law passed the legislature last week and is awaiting consideration by Gov. Pat Quinn. GILBERT R. BOUCHER II/