Erin Merryn still remembers what color shirt her best friend’s uncle was wearing when he raped her. She remembers what toys were on the carpet. She remembers what was hanging on the door.
She was six years old.
Her family moved out of town when she was 11, but the abuse continued. Her older cousin sexually abused her for two years. He would place his hand down her pants –– she always hoped it was just a nightmare.
Merryn, now 26, was silent about her abuse for years. But now, she wants to do something about it.
“Erin’s Law” — a law that mandates the education of children and adults on childhood sexual abuse — has been passed in Missouri and Illinois. Since the Jerry Sandusky case rocked Penn State and Pennsylvania as a whole, Merryn said she hopes to have the law passed in the Keystone State next.
“I will spend until my last breath on this Earth fighting for the silent epidemic,” Merryn, of Schaumburg, Ill. said.
Sandusky, former Penn State assistant football coach, was charged last Friday with 40 counts on seven different charges for allegedly sexually abusing eight young boys for more than a decade.
Merryn said if Erin’s Law was passed a decade ago in Pennsylvania, Sandusky may have been arrested years ago because the children would have been better educated on how to come forward. She said even parents would have seen the warning signs earlier and many would not have trusted Sandusky.
“Children would have been saved instead of silenced by this man. Jerry had the upper hand and knew how to groom his way in to being a coach to sexually abuse these kids,” Merryn said. “They didn’t have a voice.”
Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said Sandusky was “grooming” the young boys he allegedly sexually abused, meaning he made them trust him through gifts and mentorship.
“They’re usually children that are having a little difficulty, they’re at-risk children,” Noonan said. “Through the [Second Mile program] he was able to identify these children, give them gifts, establish a trust, initiate physical contact which eventually leads to sexual contact, and that is very common in these types of investigations.”
Legislators in Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Indiana are working toward having Erin’s Law passed. Merryn said she will not stop fighting until the law is passed in every state, including Pennsylvania.
Erin’s Law works to educate and empower children to recognize childhood abuse and learn how to report it. It also educates parents, school administrators and teachers about how to empower children to break their silence.
“That’s where I found my purpose in life: turning the silent epidemic into a mission to shatter the silence,” Merryn said.
Merryn introduced Erin’s Law in Illinois in 2010 and it was passed Feb. 14, 2011. The law followed a nearly seven-year process after Merryn broke her silence when she was a senior in high
The law was passed in Missouri just five months later, in July 2011.
In 2004, she published her childhood diary titled “Stolen Innocence” and later published “Living for Today” — a book about how her life changed after she went public with
her personal story.
Merryn has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America to talk about Erin’s Law. She has made appearances and speeches across the country to educate people on what she is doing so children don’t stay quiet for as long as she
And she hopes Penn State can, in some way, move on.
“What happened will never go away, but Penn State does not need to be defined as this school that’s doing nothing about it,” Merryn said.
“So many people can learn from Penn State and how the school moves forward.”