Lawmakers Meet Person Behind Erin's Law

By: Mike McDaniel Email
By: Mike McDaniel Email

Mississippi leaders are now able to put a face on a bill before them, which would change the way the state combats sexual abuse against children. The change would start in public schools.

When Erin Merryn was 6 years old, she never thought what happened to her then, would bring her to the Mississippi Legislature.

"I used to carry so much shame about this," said Merryn. "I never wanted to talk about it. It was a dirty uncomfortable topic."

Until age eight, she was sexually abused at the hands of a neighbor. Then from age 11 until 13, it was at the hands of a cousin.

"I was always taught stranger danger," said Merryn. "Don't take candy from a stranger. Don't go look for the lost puppy. I was never warned about the people I know in my life that could hurt you. Ninety-three percent of the time children are abused by somebody they know."

Now at 27, Erin, from Illinois, is the face behind legislation before lawmakers known as Erin's Law. It's designed to create preemptive strikes against sexual abuse.

On her state-to-state mission, five other states have already adopted Erin's Law.

Democratic Rep. Tom Miles says Mississippi needs to follow suit.

Miles is the lead author of the House version of the bill, which has gotten bipartisan support.

"It's a simple question," said Miles. "Do you want to be for children or do you want to be for sexual predators?"

The bill is set to put age-appropriate educational programs in public schools from kindergarten through the fifth grade. It'll teach young children about what sexual abuse is and to whom it should be reported.

"There are parents out there right now that are not having this conversation with their kids," Merryn said. "I guarantee every single legislator knows a child that has been abused. They just don't know who they are."

For Republican Sen. Nancy Collins it's even more personal. She's heading up the bill in the Senate and says at age ten, she, too, was sexually abused.

"What it's about is the issue that every child needs to know that they're precious and valuable," said Collins.

There will be an opt-out available for parents who don't want their child to be a part of the program, but Miles and Collins both say they hope parents understand the need.

"We want to make sure that we're protecting children and informing parents," said Collins.

"Mississippi is not a state that's going to stand for sexual predators," Miles said.

As it stands now, the bill would set up a task force to adopt a curriculum and have it in place by the beginning of 2015, to be used for the 2015-2016 school year.


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