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Survivor of child sexual abuse speaks out in Ohio Senate committee

 Erin Merryn, survivor of child sexual abuse and author, testifies at Ohio Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee.
Andy Chow
Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau
Erin Merryn, survivor of child sexual abuse and author, testifies at Ohio Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee.

The Ohio Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee heard testimony from a survivor who has made it her life’s work to tour the country and put an end to child sexual abuse.

Erin Merryn stood before the Ohio Senate committee holding her newborn baby in one arm and her childhood diary in the other. The words — preserved on the pages written when she was 11-years-old — recounted the abuse she experienced at the hands of her cousin.

Merryn’s abuse began when she was six-years-old by a neighbor. She is sharing her story with Ohio lawmakers and in legislatures around the country in hopes of enacting required child abuse prevention instruction in K-12 schools.

“I could tell you right now, there are plenty of kids in Ohio that are going to go to bed tonight, keeping the same secret I kept as a child waiting to be taught in school, waiting to be given this education, to empower them, that they will be believed and how to speak up,” Merryn said.

The Ohio legislation, HB105, would require schools to provide age-appropriate instruction on child sexual abuse prevention in grades K-6 and sexual violence prevention education in grades 7-12.

The University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against Children Research Center found that one in five girls and one in 20 boys are a victim of child sexual abuse.

Merryn said children need prevention education in schools to give them an opportunity to learn about abuse and to tell an adult if they’re not safe.

Sen. Sandra O’Brien (R-Ashtabula) expressed concerns of the impact this kind of instruction could have on children.

“I'm sorry for what happened to you. There is evil in the world and there will always be evil. I'm concerned about removing the innocence of our young children. I'm very concerned about that,” O’Brien said.

But Merryn emphasized the importance of the prevention education being age-appropriate. She said there are evidence-based resources available at different grade levels that help children understand if they are in an unsafe environment or experiencing abuse.

Merryn added that children who are experiencing abuse have already lost that sense of innocence and will continue to be in danger until they get help.

“I would rather — because the way our society is — have some of these kids come across with, you know, losing that innocence rather than not giving us kids that are being abused, the voice and ability to speak up and their innocence continue to be stolen and lost for much longer than it needs to be,” Merryn said.

What is often referred to as “Erin’s Law” has been enacted in 37 states. The Ohio bill would allow school districts to make the decision on what instruction will be provided. It also allows parents to opt their children out of that instruction.

The bill has already passed out of the House.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.