Erin Merryn, an advocate for better protections for children from sex abuse, was honored Saturday at a fundraising gala where Gov. Pat Quinn praised her international mission.
The Children's Advocacy Center recognized the Elgin mom-to-be with its first Champion of Children award at the Medinah Country Club near Roselle. The inaugural event marked the 25th anniversary of the Hoffman Estates agency where Merryn broke her silence about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
"We are honored to have a special person like Erin in our midst," Quinn told the gathering. "Erin Merryn is a genuine hero and role model for all of us ... The highest calling we have is service to others."
Quinn also signed her namesake law -- requiring elementary and middle schools to teach age-appropriate lessons on child sexual abuse -- at the center in January 2013.
The Schaumburg native was raped at 6 years old by a friend's uncle and, later, repeatedly molested by a cousin.
Merryn, whose uses a pseudonym to protect members of her family, called children's advocacy centers such as the one in Hoffman Estates crucial places of healing and described child sexual abuse as "a silent epidemic."
"Every single one of us knows someone this has happened to," Merryn said. "We just don't know their names."
The award comes as the 29-year-old prepares to take Erin's Law abroad. So far, a dozen states have passed versions of the law, while another 25 state legislatures have introduced it.
Gala organizers hoped to raise $100,000 to fund services for abused children and to allow the nonprofit to bring back an on-site medical clinic that closed several years ago.
The clinic would give abuse victims a more comfortable setting for exams than an emergency room, Executive Director Mark Parr said.