She found purpose through her pain
Last week, we ran a feature on child sexual abuse cases here. Victims rarely speak to the media. One woman in the US did
An adult neighbour raped her when she was only six.
Ms Erin Merryn, 30, tells The New Paper on Sunday he was someone she knew.
It was during her first sleepover with her kindergarten classmate Ashley. In the middle of the night, Ashley's uncle, who lived in the same house, turned up at the room where they were sleeping.
He signalled for Ms Merryn to be quiet and sexually assaulted her. Ashley slept through the ordeal. Confused, Ms Merryn remained silent about the sexual abuse.
The man, then in his 20s, assaulted her several more times the next year.
Ms Merryn says in an e-mail interview: "My parents were not aware of the abuse at all. I stayed silent because the only message I got was threats by my perpetrators.
"I was told by my first perpetrator that if I told anyone, he would come get me (as) he knows where I live."
When she finally confided in Ashley, Ashley begged her to not say anything.
When Ms Merryn was eight, her family moved to another neighbourhood in the same town. She stopped seeing Ashley.
That was the start of another nightmare. After a family gathering, her 13-year-old cousin abused her.
Ms Merryn says: "The first time my cousin abused me, I pulled his hands off me and then (I) curled up in a ball trying to convince myself I was in a bad nightmare, and I was going to wake up tomorrow and realise it.
"Unfortunately, I woke up and knew that it really did happen."
The cousin also told her: "No one will believe you. You have no proof. You will destroy our family if you tell anyone."
He continued to abuse her for the next two years.
"I often tried to fight him off. Other times, I would be still and beg him to leave me alone," she says.
One day, one of Ms Merryn's sisters blurted out that the cousin was "gross".
It then dawned on Ms Merryn that the cousin had been molesting her sister too.
They talked for hours and told their parents the next day.
The family pressed charges against the cousin who admitted to three counts of sexual abuse.
Ms Merryn says that the cousin was given probation, counselling, community service and could not come within 100 feet of her and her sister.
Unlike her cousin, her first abuser got off scot-free.
Says Ms Merryn: "Because I didn't come forward until 16 years later, there was no physical evidence. (It was) my word against his. It was going to go nowhere."
The abuse greatly impacted Ms Merryn, she "had behaviour and emotional problems".
She experienced depression, nightmares and flashbacks daily.
When she was in high school, she was put on medication - anti-depressants, anxiety and sleep medication - to help her cope with the pain.
She says: "I struggled to trust any man besides my father. I ran away from so many relationships fearing men would hurt and betray me."
Eventually, she found a trustworthy man and has been married for over two years. They have a 15-month-old daughter.
She says: "Abuse keeps happening because we don't talk about it. We put so much emphasis on strangers hurting our kids when the reality is, it isn't the strangers we have to worry about, but the people we know and trust (coaches, family members, religious leaders, family friends).
"Many never come forward until they are adults because they have been only educated to keep it a secret, threatened by their abusers to stay silent.
"Nobody has ever taught them on safe and unsafe touches... That if you are sexually abused, it is not your fault. You tell immediately, and keep telling until the abuse stops."
Her ordeal spurred her to speak up for victims of child sexual abuse.
She introduced a legislation, which was later named Erin's Law after her.
The law provides age-appropriate curriculum for children from pre-school age onwards on personal body safety, educating children on safe touch, unsafe touch, safe secrets, unsafe secrets and how to get away and tell today if they are being sexually abused.
As of June this year, 26 of the 50 states in the US have passed a version of Erin's Law, while it is still pending in 17 states.
She says: "Erin's Law can be passed in every country to help save millions, actually billions of children from abuse.
"My mission with Erin's Law is to pass it in all 50 states and then go on to take it to other countries, urging lawmakers there to pass this important law."
In Singapore, children are taught how to recognise abuse, to identify types of behaviour that are of concern or are socially unacceptable, and how to seek help, former Minister of Education, Mr Heng Swee Keat, told Parliament last year.
He said at the secondary level, students are taught what constitutes sexual grooming, how to protect themselves from others with malicious intent, and help-seeking skills.
Our perpetrators steal our innocence, take our trust, but the one thing you can get back is your voice. Reclaim it and let it be heard.
— Ms Erin Merryn