The place Erin Merryn broke her silence
The Children's Advocacy Center of Northwest Cook County Illinois
In 1998 seventy five thousand six hundred and forty seven abused children were seen in one hundred and thirty nine Children's Advocacy Centers in America. Behind those numbers are the faces of innocent children whose childhoods were shattered by actions of evil and sickness. Those were just the number of children who broke their silence that year. Two of those children were my sister and I. Today there are more then 700 Children Advocacy Centers in America and millions of children have walked through those doors.
Before there were CAC's children were interviewed numerous times in places such as police stations. To a child who has been told so many threats to stay silent the idea of being taken to a police station can often scare a child. Children are taught that the police are their to keep their communities safe and lock up the bad people. So before CAC's a child brought to a police station could be filled with anxiety and fear that they are in trouble. The same year I was born in 1985 was the first year the development of the first CAC in America was born in Alabama. The brilliant minds behind putting in place a center that had a home away from home feeling to give children a sense of security and comfort.
At thirteen was the age I walked through the CAC. A place I went to with my eleven year old sister and mother. Walking up to a door with so many racing thoughts afraid I was not going to be believed, wondering what I was going to be asked, and so ashamed to even think about sharing the dirty secrets. Oh and of course my cousin's voice echoing through my head "No one will believe you, you have no proof, you will destroy this family, this is our secret!"
Soon it was no longer our secret and I was behind a different closed door not the one to a bedroom, a bathroom, basement, or closet but this time into a colorful room with a small table and bright light shinning through the skylight. I sat next to a woman who I had just met moments earlier in the waiting room with my sister and mom. How I wondered am I suppose to tell this stranger my pain when I am too ashamed to even talk in detail with my parents about it. I just wanted to get it over with.
She was a forensic interviewer who had been trained to interview children who had reported abuse. She knew exactly what she was doing by asking simple questions on my life, friends, what I did for fun, and my family. Eventually though the conversation has to shift and that question that I will never forget. Do I know the difference between the truth and a lie? Immediately I thought I was being asked this question because she already did not believe me. The words of my cousin began haunting me. After describing the difference between the truth and a lie I was asked if I agreed to tell the truth that day. I remember immediately after answering the interviewer I said "That's the reason I didn't tell before, I kept it to myself because I thought no one would believe me." Of course I was asked what I was referring to and I said my cousin Brian has been doing bad things. For the next hour I relived as much as I was capable of sharing and just kept finding myself focusing on the large mirror having no clue their was a detective on the other side listening to my entire story and am very glad I did not know. The more I shared the more I felt heard like I was lifting this burden off me and by the way the forensic interviewer was talking to me and encouraged me she gave me the message she believed me. My sister and I both left with stuffed animals and feeling like our secret was now in good hands. I remember walking out into the parking lot and feeling this sense of relief.
Seven months later I would return back for the first time since my interview to begin a group with other girls who were survivors in January 1999. The center provided me a safe place to connect with people who understood unlike my friends in school who did not understand what I had gone through. I eventually would return back to the room I was interviewed in nine months later when I began doing individual counseling but was still not ready to go there into details the shame overwhelmed me however I did learn to finally stop blaming myself for what happened to my younger sister and my entire family. Realizing I was not a fault and learning to let go of the guilt. I also learned in group how to create a safe place to escape to when memories flooded my memory.While I was not ready at thirteen and fourteen to immediately share the journey of what all I went through because I was still too ashamed the Children's Advocacy Center laid the foundation in my healing to one day let that voice be heard. A voice that flies across America and speaks at many of these CAC's that exist taking people back to my experience at the CAC and this time sharing all the details because I no longer carry the shame but instead a voice bringing awareness to these incredible centers that give children a new start on life and a path toward healing.