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Erin Merryn speaks about sexual assault in Walter Rotunda for the Take Back the Night keynote speech. (Katharine Egli | Picture Editor)

Speaker shares personal story of childhood abuse

Activist and author Erin Merryn gave the keynote speech in the Walter Hall Rotunda Wednesday as part of Take Back the Night.

Merryn spoke about her experiences as a survivor of sexual assault, having been assaulted by two different men — her friend’s neighbor and her cousin — at ages 6 and 11, respectively.

“When a child is victimized, they remember it forever,” she said. “(My cousin) told me, ‘No one will believe you, Erin. You’ll ruin our family, Erin.’ I questioned every man I came across.”

Merryn kept silent about the sexual assaults until she found out her cousin had also been assaulting her younger sister. Upon this revelation, the two told their parents, who took them to a children’s advocacy center and took her cousin to juvenile court.

Merryn’s cousin was charged with sexual assault, but eventually had his probation lessened. Because of many of the complications of the trial and with her family, Merryn began to self-harm and attempted suicide.

“I went down a very dark, destructive time in my life,” she said. “I had flashbacks and I had my little stash of razors to snap me out of it.”

Though she was put on antidepressants, Merryn said the only thing that truly helped her was writing letters to her cousin and letting go of the guilt she felt.

“Once I let go of this guilt and shame that I had done something wrong, it was like I lost 15 pounds that I had been carrying around,” she said. “I let go of the anger inside me because I said I’m never letting this monster steal another day of my happiness and joy.”

After making peace with her sexual assaults, Merryn began pushing Erin’s Law, legislation that would require states that pass it to provide age-appropriate sexual assault prevention classes in public schools. The classes would teach what sexual assault is, who to tell about it and how to protect and defend against it.

“In school, I was taught fire drills, bus drills, but I was never taught what to do if I was sexually assaulted by someone in my family,” she said. “If kids are educated it could save not only them, but others.”

The bill has been signed into law in Missouri, Indiana, New York and Maine and was passed by the House in Mississippi minutes before Merryn’s speech began.

“She was absolutely amazing to listen to and so easy to speak with,” said Talie Carter, an intern on the women’s affairs commission said. “Everyone should hear this incredible woman speak and share her story.”

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