JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Riveting and eye-opening are two words that describe the keynote speaker's presentation at The Monique Burr Foundation's inaugural Champions for Child Safety Luncheon held Wednesday at the University of North Florida.
While recognizing individuals and organizations making outstanding achievements in raising awareness of child safety issues, the event featured a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape.
"I thought attackers jumped out of bushes," Erin Merryn said.
Then she read an excerpt from her childhood diary, "They don't teach us that in school!" That revelation, by a teenager who had been abused repeatedly since she was 6 years old -- first by a friend's uncle, then later by a cousin. She broke her silence her senior year of high school, and turned her life around. She published her childhood diary into a book, "Stolen Innocence."
In 2010, Merryn became the force behind Erin's Law, a law that mandates age-appropriate curriculum for kids on personal body safety in pre-K through 12th grade, educating kids on safe touch and unsafe touch, safe secrets and unsafe secrets, and how to get away and tell today if they're being sexually abused.
For the past five years, she's traveled from state to state, testifying on Erin's Law. So far, 28 states have passed a version of the law, but Florida is not among them. Merryn hopes to change that.
Her message is that teaching stranger danger is good for our children, but all too often it's the predator in your own home or circle of friends and family that is to be feared.
Merryn has written two other books, "Living for Today" and "An Unimaginable Act."
Merryn, along with two local legislators, Sen. Aaron Bean and Sen. Rob Bradley, was selected as an Individual Champion at the award presentation. The Kappa Delta sorority was named Organization Champion.
Champion honorees included Cliff Little of A1A Solar Contracting, Prudence Williams of Exchange Club Family Center, Jillian Klein of Glenn Layton Homes, Darral Lee of Raintree Graphics, Pastor Paul Edgar Scott and longtime pediatrician Dr. Gerold L. Schiebler.
Local businessman Ed Burr created The Monique Burr Foundation 19 years ago, after the death of his wife, Monique. He wanted to continue her legacy of child protection and advocacy.
The Monique Burr Foundation Child Safety Matters program has reached more than 1.5 million elementary-age children in Florida, teaching them to protect themselves against bullying, cyberbullying, digital abuse and all types of exploitation.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and on Saturday, Monique Burr Foundation Child Safety Matters will hold the Real World Safety Conference at the UNF Adam W. Herbert University Center. For tickets, visit MBFChildSafetyMatters.org.