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Monday, Oct. 18, 2021

Gingerbread House Offers Hope

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Crin Merryn speaks with authority on a & very uncomfortable topic: child sexual abuse.

From the ages of 6 to 8, she was raped by an adult neighbor who threatened her into silence about the abuse. A few years later, after her parents moved to a new home, she fell into the clutches of an older teenage cousin. She suffered at his hands from age 11 to 13; her only avenue to tell her story was her diary.

Merryn is now turning those experiences into positive action. She is engaged in an effort to persuade all 50 states to pass Erin's Law, mandating all public schools teach students how to report anyone who sexually abuses them.

The law requires schools to use age-appropriate curricula to teach students how to tell on anyone who touches or attempts to touch their private parts. Nearly 40 states, including Louisiana, have signed on to the effort. Merryn lobbies lawmakers to pass the law requiring personal body safety courses in public schools in grades pre-K through 12.

Merryn is bringing her personal story to Shreveport on Thursday, Nov. 4, when she will be the guest speaker at the Partners in Prevention Luncheon held at Sam's Town Hotel & Casino by The Gingerbread House. The Gingerbread House's mission is to lessen the trauma experienced by child abuse victims while allegations are investigated and to provide support for the victim throughout the investigations, prosecution and treatment phases of the case.

Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator has called the Gingerbread House "a godsend for children, families and the entire criminal justice system. Simply put, the Gingerbread House is irreplaceable."

The community-based 501(c)(3) organization works with abuse victims, law enforcement, medical professionals and others to investigate, prosecute and treat child sexual and physical abuse cases. The Gingerbread House is an accredited Child Advocacy Center with National Children's Alliance and has served northwest Louisiana for 23 years.

Statistically, one in 10 children will be a victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Just over a third of the abuse victims ever disclose the crime, and some never do. Contrary to the belief of many, only about 10 percent of abused children are victims of a stranger. The rest are victimized by someone they know.

Locally, in the most recent 12-month period, Gingerbread House provided forensic interviews, multidisciplinary investigations and family advocacy services for 864 children. One hundred sixty-five child victims of abuse and their non-offending caregivers received counseling services. Almost 32,000 individuals are reached with information about the services Gingerbread House offers.

In February 2015, the Gingerbread House was selected as one of three national programs out of 777 child advocacy centers to be highlighted during the inaugural "50 Stars in 50 States" campaign of the National Children's Alliance.

Merryn said she believes everyone is born with a purpose, and she found hers due to the trauma she endured. Far from being embarrassed by the events, Merryn said she feels inspired to put a face and a voice on child sexual abuse. She said she is dedicated to taking the stigma and shame away from victims and giving survivors the courage to speak up and speak out.

She is the author of "Stolen Innocence," "Living for Today" and "An Unimaginable Act," as well as "Baily No Ordinary Cat:' and "Diary of a Cat Named Carrot." She was selected 2012 Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine. People Magazine selected her as one of the "Heroes Among Us" in April 2013 and one of 15 women changing the world in their June 2014 issue.

Merryn has made numerous media appearances, including "Oprah," "OWN:' "Today:' "Good Morning America" and "CBS This Morning," among others.

She is married and the mother of three girls of her own with a fourth child on the way. Her cat is a bit of a celebrity as well, boasting over 280,000 Instagram followers. The cat has helped raise $85,000 for Merryn's local Children's Advocacy Center.

For anyone interested in sponsoring or attending the Partners in Prevention Luncheon, you should contact the Gingerbread House at (318) 674-2900. You can email their director of community engagement, Sophia M. Herron, at sherron@gingerbreadhousecac.org.

ON STANDS NOW!

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