March 22, 1998
Everyone can recall where they were when they learned the news of 9/11. Those that are old enough can recall where they were when they heard JFK had been killed. Life changing moments. For most March 22, 1998 was just another day. For me it was a day that changed my life. That morning my mother turned on the video camera and captured me doing tricks with my Labrador retriever in the video above. I had just turned 13 the month before. What you can’t tell from watching this video is the secrets I was keeping. Secrets I was writing about in my diary that I later turned into book called Stolen Innocence. What I didn’t know is just hours after my mother filmed this I learned my secret was also my 11 year old sisters secret.
As we walked up a road together with our best friend my sister blurted out the words, “Brian’s gross.” That moment is frozen in time for me. Brian was that older cousin who was sexually abusing both of us and we didn’t know it was happening to each other. My exact words to her were, “He is doing it to #youtoo?”
9 days before this video was taken was the last time I would ever be abused. It was Friday March 13th just a little after 9pm while watching TV in my aunt and uncle’s bedroom where I had been babysitting. My older cousin appeared at the doorway. It was similar to the 1993 movie “When a Stranger Calls” the teenager alone in the house with two sleeping children. The only difference this was no stranger at the door and the stranger abducted the children in the movie. Strangers were the one thing I had been warned about as a kid. This older cousin was not there to harm his little brothers he was there to harm me.
It was one of the most terrifying days of my life when I found myself fighting to get off the bed he was holding me down on. Only to escape after punching him and run down a flight of stairs. Then chased from the kitchen, living room, and foyer. Eventually I was dragged back into that bedroom and forced onto the bed where for over an hour I cried as he raped me. I remember the things he whispered in my ear, his hot breath against my neck, the smile that never left his face, and the look in his eyes. This experience was not new to me. It had been going on for nearly 2 years. Seven years earlier I found myself in another bedroom with another grown man. This time just before my 7th birthday with my best friend’s uncle who lived with her. He too raped me. These men were both of different race, age, but one thing that was the same was I knew both of them yet I had only been warned about “Strangers.” The videos shown by the police officer every year in our classroom of the guy in the rusty truck with missing teeth and looked like he hadn’t showered in months as he reached his hand out the window with candy trying to lure the kid into the car.
Sadly 93% of the time children are not harmed by a stranger but someone they know and trust. The coach, family member, family friend, someone in the church, scout leader, teacher, etc.
Both these men threatened me to keep quiet, I wouldn’t be believed and harmed if I did tell, and that was my education on this. I lived in fear as these men used their power and control to silence me. I stayed silent and suffered six years of abuse and rape because no one taught me how to speak up and tell.
I was not only robbed of many years in my childhood but years after the abuse ended as I suffered many days in middle school, high school, and even into my college years. Everything from depression, nightmares, flashbacks, trust issues that will last a lifetime, PTSD, self-injury, anorexia, and a failed suicide attempt.
Some may wonder will she ever shut up from talking about this and the answer is NO. No because there are millions of children suffering right now from the same horrors I lived through that don’t have a voice. Children that you likely know and don’t even know it. If telling my story over and over again will get parents talking to their kids about personal body safety, educators looking for the warning signs in students, and legislators requiring that we teach it in school it is worth it. If I could save one child the horror I carry with me it is worth spending the next 50 years doing this.
I was told by my own state senator 7 years ago, “Erin I agree we should talk to kids about sexual abuse but this will never pass. They will never educate kids on school about this.” I refused to listen to him and set out to end this silent epidemic and see legislation passed in all 50 states requiring personal body safety taught every year.
Erin’s Law is now in 31 states and it is working. In the state of Maryland where I got Erin’s Law passed just put a teacher away for 48 years after 15 years of sexually abusing students and a child disclosing during a personal body safety presentation. Then in my home state of Illinois last fall a man was sentenced to 40 years behind bars after sexually abusing his girlfriend’s daughter starting at the age of 3 until she was 7. Immediately after an Erin’s Law presentation she told her teacher.
If you are reading this and never talked to your kids about body safety don’t waste another moment. Talk to them about safe and unsafe touches, safe and unsafe secrets, five safe adults to go to if they find themselves in need of help. If anyone ever harms them they will be believed, this is not their fault, and you won’t be in trouble. Be a voice for the voiceless.
This road in life has had its ups, downs, and dead ends. I found my way out of the darkness and a bright road ahead of me where nothing can stop me.