Watercolor painting of Erin as a child done by Michal Madison
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After a scary end to 2010 where I had my 2nd seizure that placed me in the hospital for 6 days the resilient person I am bounced back and just days after being released was testifying before the House of Representatives of Illinois on “Erin’s Law” where all 110 members voted YES passing it on to Governor Quinn. February 14, 2011 Governor Quinn made Erin’s Law official which began the process of the Erin’s Law task force developing. Every month 15 of us come together from across the state for a meeting as we discuss the progress of our work in finding the best age appropriate curriculum for children on sexual abuse, the best way to educate parents, teachers, and administrators on sexual abuse prevention, warning signs, and what to do if a child reports sexual abuse. Well as we all know child sexual abuse doesn’t just happen in Illinois it is happening across this world. I knew in my heart I wanted to continue to spread Erin’s law of educating and protecting children in other states. I am now on a national crusade to get it passed in all 50 states. 5 months after Erin’s Law was signed by Governor Quinn, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed Erin’s Law thanks to Senator Ryan McKenna.
It doesn’t end there, I wrote letters to senators in nearly every state and got a response from several. I did a press conference in New York with Senators Klein and Valesky who are introducing Erin’s Law in January 2012 and New Mexico, Indiana, Minnesota, and Maine are also introducing Erin’s Law. Look what one woman in Iowa did after seeing me on television. After the recent news of Penn State I was immediately on the phone with the PA Governor’s office and I also had a representative in my audience in April when I spoke in Pennsylvania working to get Erin’s Law introduced in Pennsylvania. It will happen in every state and you can help. People are constantly asking me how to get Erin’s law passed in their state. Contact the senator in your district and state and send them the language of “Erin’s Law” and this video called Erin’s Mission. If this doesn’t move them to action then shame on them. No worries though, I will eventually get their attention. I promise!
This year I have traveled from one end of the country to another. From a college campus in Keene, New Hampshire, to the border of hot Texas in Laredo for their annual child abuse conference, to beautiful Vancouver, Washington for the YWCA annual conference, to The United States Department of Education National Conference in D.C. I have been honored to be a keynote speaker at all of this years events and past years events and am grateful for all those that bring me to their community to shatter the silence.
I began this journey of speaking out nearly 8 years ago in March 2004. I have met some incredible people along the way and am so blessed to have many of these people now apart of my life. I have poured my heart and soul into awareness, education, and breaking the silence around sexual abuse. All this passion, determination, and motivation stems from the life I have lived. I have taken some of the darkest moments of my life and have appeared before millions on television and stages sharing some of those darkest moments and almost all the time I am approached after every appearance I make and am told I am poised, authentic, and have such strength to do what I do. My answer to how I can get up there and do that is simple. You will find that answer in either of my books “Stolen Innocence” or Living For Today” but you can also find the answer in The Bible. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”- Philippians 4:13. I know what sexual abuse does to a child and a family and I will do everything in my efforts to not let other children and families walk down that path.
Every day I hear from people from around this world and the impact my decision to speak out has had on them. While in Corpus Christi, Texas in September just as I finished giving my speech a local female judge in my audience approached me immediately after and said, “Erin I am a judge who has never been late to work. I am 15 minutes late to a court hearing but I could not bring myself to leave because your message is so powerful and the courage you display is incredible I had to keep listening.” While in Alabama speaking in September a man approached me after my speech and said, “Several years ago my wife heard you speak in South Carolina and she came home and went on and on about what an incredible speech you gave so when she heard you were coming to Alabama she didn’t want me to miss it and now I saw what she is talking about.” Hearing these compliments is sometimes hard to hear. I just feel I am doing what I was called to do after finding my voice again. His wife later came up to me and told me that she uses my books over and over again quoting passage after passage as she travels to conferences for child abuse trainings for Children’s Advocacy Centers. It is rewarding to hear my messages straight out of my books are being used at conferences around the country. I receive letters all the time about therapists recommending their clients to read my books. I received one of those letters this week. “You signed a book for my counselor at a conference this year when she heard you speak in New Jersey. She let me borrow the book and I am getting so much help from it. You give me the courage to want to speak out about this and educate others.” My final story I will share from this years traveling happened in October when I spoke in Austin, Texas. I had just finished giving an hour and a half speech in front of 600 people. I was walking in the hallway outside the banquet room when a man approached me and asked if he could speak to me for a moment. He went on to share how moving my presentation was for him to hear. He went on to say how he felt like I was speaking to him directly especially when I described how these people that often abuse children are not “Stranger Danger” but instead the people we trust with our kids and one of the first examples I gave was coaches. This man was abused by a coach as a kid and he knows this coach abused several boys he knew. The man became very emotional and to give him some privacy I stepped outside with him and spent the next twenty minutes listening to him and offering him the advice I felt best for him to walk away with. I encouraged him to find a good therapist to talk to. He was pouring lots of time into serving in other ways to abused kids. I find that great but I felt he was directing his attention to how he could help in his community to other abused kids when he still has not given that little hurting boy inside himself time to be heard and heal. He introduced me to his wife and I encouraged her to help her husband find a therapist. This man out of Texas is an example of what I don’t want future generations to keep secrets about. Which is why I am pushing with all my efforts to take Erin’s Law national.
For the past year I have teamed up with a foundation called Cord-Vanderpool that is supporting “Erin’s Law” in tremendous ways. This foundation recognizes all the time and energy I have poured into Erin’s Law, where I am doing something out of the goodness of my heart that does not see financial gain but actually financial loss with all the travel expenses. If I am not spending hours on the phone one day with state senators with questions about Erin’s law, interviews with reporters on the law, I am on the phone with organizations that have curriculum on child abuse prevention that want Erin’s Law task force to consider it. My biggest challenge is having enough time for it all. It is all so time consuming. The days are not long enough. The challenge is only going to become tougher this year. Many state senators are asking me to come testify at their capital on “Erin’s Law” this winter/spring. They all feel I come across so effective with the importance of why we need this law that it is best to have me testify on it. I am totally in support of it just as long as they can cover my travel expenses. Well many of these states cannot. That is where you can help make that happen this year by donating. The foundation knows how dedicated I am to my mission of Erin’s Law and that I will not let anything stop me not even my medical conditions.
Last January I was dropped from my parent’s health insurance and because I have a preexisting condition with Epilepsy all private health insurance companies denied me. After about my thirteenth phone call with health insurance providers I was ready to pull my hair out and was done hearing the same message. Well the anti-seizure medications I am on are over thousands of dollars each time I get another prescription without insurance. With insurance the cost is nearly nothing for me. Well my only option was Cobra which came out to be nearly $600.00 a month and I just received a statement over the weekend Cobra is being raised to $630.00 a month for me. For the past year all donations to Cord-Vanderpool under “Erin’s Law” have gone to allow me to continue my mission by paying my health insurance and Cord-vanderpool picked up what wasn’t covered. Each time someone donates Cord-Vanderpool has notified me who has donated. While I would love to recognize you all I know many would like to stay anonymous. Whether you were that person that donated $10.00-$2000.00 or some where in between I know who you are and I greatly appreciate you for helping me continue my mission. With all the events to come in 2012 and more states I know that will come to support bringing Erin’s Law to their state I ask this year if you can pay the way in making sure Erin’s Law is heard by making a donation under Erin’s Law to Cord-Vanderpool. Just click on the name and it will take you there. We are also planning on doing a fundraiser in 2012 that will also benefit The Children’s Advocacy Center.
As a child my letters to Santa asked for him to bring me dolls. My letter to Santa now would ask that he help me get my law in every state and the funds be available to make that happen. My faith isn’t in Santa my faith is in God and I know He will provide. The same way He provided His Son for all of our sins during our time on this Earth. After all Jesus is the reason for the season.
As I close this letter I ask you to share it with someone. Ask them to join hands in Erin’s Mission to take Erin’s law national by reaching out to their senators, passing on Erin’s Mission video, and donating to Erin’s Law. Come follow us on Erin’s Law facebook page. I hope each and everyone of you reading this has a very blessed Christmas and a very happy and healthy New Year.