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National Push for 'Erin's Law' Against Sexual Abuse Reaches Alaska

Published On: Mar 25 2014 10:10:09 PM AKDT   Updated On: Mar 25 2014 12:00:00 PM AKDT

Reporter Rebecca Palsha, Photojournalist Eric Sowl


A woman who was sexually abused as a child is trying to pass a law to protect children from sexual abuse in every state in the country.

When Erin Merryn was a little girl, she was sexually abused from age 6 to age 8 -- and then again by a family member from ages 11 to 13.

For years, Merryn kept it hidden from her family. She says she started to act out, at one point punching her fist through a window -- all the classic signs, she says, of a child who was being abused.

"I continued being told, 'This is our secret, no one will believe you, you have no proof I'm doing this to you, you'll destroy our family,'" Merryn said.  "I was told this over and over and over again, growing up."

Merryn finally told her parents when her younger sister, who was 11 at the time, told her she was also being sexually abused. Since then, she's become an advocate for children and started Erin's Law, which first became law in Illinois -- a law she's now trying to get passed nationwide.

Erin's Law would add a school curriculum teaching children to protect themselves from sexual predators. Merryn says schools already teach children to avoid drinking and drugs, safety during natural disasters and stranger danger.

"I knew not to give into peer pressure and in junior high and high school, when it came to marijuana I knew how to say, 'No,'" Merryn said. "But I didn't know how to say no to my perpetrator. I  listened to the only message I got -- that was, 'Stay silent; I'll come and get you.'"

The law has already passed in 11 states and is being voted on in 26 states including Alaska. Its sponsor in the Legislature, Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), says it has bipartisan support.

"It can happen anywhere to anyone," Tarr said. "I think we're coming together to recognize that and find an Alaska solution."

The House Education Committee will hear Alaska's version of Erin's Law, HB233, on Friday in Juneau.