“No matter where I travel in this world including here in Washington, anytime I speak survivors feel the courage to share with me their experience. Many breaking down in tears and telling me I am the first person they have told. It is their courage that keeps me speaking out knowing I am helping people find their voice and begin to heal,” said Erin.
Erin Merryn is a leading advocate for sexual abuse prevention and education. After enduring abuse from a friend’s uncle at 6 and 7 years old, and then sexual abuse from a cousin during her pre- and early teens, Erin discovered her sister was also a victim of abuse from the same cousin. Despite threats and fears of breaking up the family, Erin told her parents at age 13. They took the necessary steps to protect and care for their daughters’ well-being. One of these steps was to seek help from the Children’s Advocacy Center of Northwest Cook County in Illinois.
Like ywca’s Sexual Assault Program, this center strives to reduce trauma and provide support to child victims of violence and their families. It was the efforts of this center which helped Erin break her silence. As she states in her book, Living for Today, “The Children’s Advocacy Center was the foundation of my healing. It was here that not only I first shared my story, but also I was believed by the detective and the staff. I learned at the center to plant seeds in my soul that would eventually bear fruit as I grew and matured. I was no longer carrying my pain alone.”
Through her voice, Erin discovered her ultimate purpose: to see legislation passed that requires all children in public schools across the nation to be taught safety lessons in a child friendly manner in which children learn how to say no, speak up, and who to go to if someone uses unwanted touches. In February of 2011, just after Erin’s 26th birthday, Illinois passed Erin’s Law requiring school boards to adopt such a curriculum. In support of Erin’s goals, she has spoken nationwide and been featured in a variety of media including Time Magazine and the Oprah Winfrey Show.
On Wednesday, September 7th Erin graced the podium at the Hilton Vancouver. Because of her strength, and with the support of wonderful sponsors, table hosts, staff, and the dedicated luncheon committee ywca exceeded last year’s revenues providing support for all 7 ywca programs. ywca’s Sexual Assault Program (SAP) was featured at this luncheon, and shares Erin’s interest in preventative education and in breaking the silence associated with sexual assault. Findings suggest that victims feel silenced by a combination of factors. Listed here are only a few from prevent-abuse-now.com:
- Children often fail to report because of the fear that disclosure will bring consequences even worse than being victimized again. The victim may fear consequences from the family, feel guilty for consequences to the perpetrator, and may fear subsequent retaliatory actions from the perpetrator. 1
- In addition to “sexual guilt,” there are several other types of guilt associated with the abuse, which include feeling different from peers, harboring vengeful and angry feelings toward both parents, feeling responsible for the abuse, feeling guilty about reporting the abuse, and bringing disloyalty and disruption to the family. Any of these feelings of guilt could outweigh the decision of the victim to report, the result of which is the secret may remain intact and undisclosed. 1
- Early identification of sexual abuse victims appears to be crucial to the reduction of suffering of abused youth and to the establishment of support systems for assistance in pursuing appropriate psychological development and healthier adult functioning. As long as disclosure continues to be a problem for young victims, then fear, suffering, and psychological distress will, like the secret, remain with the victim. 1
- Breaking the silence is not only a goal shared by Erin and ywca’s Sexual Assault Program, but also supports ywca’s overall mission. Giving voice to survivors is empowering, and empowerment presents opportunities to pursue freedom, justice and dignity. Children who are not able to talk about an assault and/or are not believed are at an increased risk for lifelong physical, emotional, and social problems. The following tips can help you to empower the children that you love and help to keep them safer:
- Let your children know that it’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to leave a situation—especially one that involves someone who has made your child feel uncomfortable.
- Have your children identify 3 safe ‘support people.’ Make sure your children have a way to easily contact them. (post the numbers or have them programmed in if they have a phone) Let child practice by calling and saying, “I want you to know you’re my support person.”
- Talk with your children regularly about body safety, just like you would any other kind of safety.
- Teach your children the proper names for body parts, and teach them about safe and unsafe touching, and what is appropriate physical affection and attention.
- Reduce the occurrence of situations where there is only one adult present with your child.
- Trust your intuition about people around your children.
- Tell your children that some people, both kids and adults, try to trick kids into keeping touching a secret, and that those kinds of secrets are not the kind to keep. If they are ever afraid to tell their parent(s) or guardians, then tell their support person.
- Remember that the greatest risk to our children comes from family and friends—not strangers.
If your child or any child you know has been sexually assaulted—which is a serious crime—assure him or her that telling you was the right thing to do, that you are sorry it happened, and that it wasn’t his or her fault. Then, get support immediately. Contact our 24-hour Sexual Assault Hotline, 360 695 0501 and/or call 911. Learn more about how to keep teens safer, support a victim, and reduce the risk of sexual assault on our website.