Lyndon Haviland, CEO Darkness to Light
Erin Merryn, Erin’s Law
The documentary “Breaking the Silence” is the beginning of a conversation – now it’s time to take action.
On Sunday, August 30th, TLC in partnership with Darkness to Light and RAINN, will air the premiere of “Breaking the Silence”, a documentary that takes a hard look at the problem of child sexual abuse. We will learn from the stories of several courageous survivors that child sexual abuse is pervasive and that its effect on children is devastating and long lasting. We learn that it is a complex problem that requires a multi-pronged solution.
The documentary also highlights the need for prevention education. Representing sexual abuse survivors, Erin’s Law has been on a mission to advocate for education programs in schools that will teach children personal body safety and how to identify trusted adults to tell if someone is inappropriately touching them or breaking safe boundaries.
Darkness to Light believes that equipping adults with the tools to prevent abuse, recognize the signs, and react responsibly is as equally important as empowering children. That is how we become that trusted adult who will be there for a child in the face of the unspeakable. Ideally, adults will learn about and be empowered to practice Darkness to Light’s 5 Steps to Protecting Our Children 1. Learn the Facts, 2. Minimize Opportunity, 3. Talk About It, 4. Recognize the Signs, and 5. React Responsibly. In “Breaking the Silence” and our Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training program, the 5 Steps are given context through the powerful experiences of the survivors. Their stories motivate and empower us to create environments that safeguard our children from predators.
Talking to children about their bodies and abuse should begin in the home but schools can play an important role. Unfortunately, very little priority is placed on the training required to make this possible. Did you know that despite the fact that school personnel are the source of 52% of all identified child abuse cases*, the number of states that have allocated funding for teacher child sexual abuse prevention training is zero?** The bottom line is this: schools are one of the primary areas where prevention is possible and yet there is no national strategy for educating our teachers and professionals. The training is not being required and the funding for the training is not being provided.
Erin’s Law seeks to create state mandates for education in our school systems; requiring students in grades pre-K – 12th grade, age-appropriate techniques to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult, training for all school personnel, and tools and resources for parents and guardians.
So far it’s been passed in 26 states. We applaud the lawmakers that have risen to the challenge and we implore the other 24 states to follow suit. Training children is important; however, when children are empowered to disclose but adults are not equipped to respond appropriately that’s a problem. We must therefore, ensure that school personnel are also given the skills to become trusted adults to our children.
Few states require school personnel to be trained. We ask legislators to include the adult training component of Erin’s Law. All states need to prioritize the education of both students and school personnel.
Without adequate funding these education mandates have limited impact. In addition to training legislation, funding must be prioritized. On a federal level, legislation has passed the U.S. Senate and is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that would fund state-level enactment and implementation of Erin’s Law. This is critical to ensuring the protection of our children.
“Breaking the Silence” is just the beginning to a national dialogue on child sexual abuse and the need for prevention. Now it is up to us to take action. First we must have these important conversations in our homes, and next we must support laws that will require training in our schools and the funding to make it happen. We hope that everyone viewing the documentary hears the message that when children and adults are aware and educated, our families and communities are safer. To find out more about how to support Erin’s Law visit www.erinslaw.org.
*All forms of child abuse
**Although no state has allocated funds for training, some local school districts have.
About Erin Merryn
Erin Merryn is author of Stolen Innocence, Living for Today, and An Unimaginable Act. Erin earned her Master’s degree in social work from Aurora University in May 2009. After suffering years of sexual abuse and rape as a child she broke her silence and found her mission in life. Erin began a crusade her senior year of high school in 2004 to end the silence and shame around sexual abuse by publishing her childhood diary into a book. In 2010 she became the force behind Erin’s Law, which requires public schools to teach children on age appropriate sexual abuse prevention curriculum. Traveling to each state capital testifying to lawmakers to pass the law, she has made it her mission to pass the law in all 50 states. In November 2012 Glamour Magazine named her Woman of the Year and she was honored in Carnegie Hall before 3,000 people. People Magazine named her a HEROES Among Us in April 2013 and listed her as one of fifteen women changing the world in June 2014. She has made numerous media appearances including, Oprah, Oprah Winfrey’s Network, Katie Couric, CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, Fox, Jane Velez Mitchell, Montel, and Al Jazeera. She has appeared in People Magazine, Time Magazine, USA Today, London Times, Glamour Magazine, Huffington Post, Cosmo Girl Magazine, among others.