An Unimaginable Act by Erin Merryn is not a book for every reader, but it does carry a message for every parent, teacher and anyone else who has contact with children. The book is informally divided into three parts: the author’s victimization and ensuing difficulties as a survivor of child sexual abuse, a detailed historical outline of Erin’s Law including dates and quotes as it was implemented State by State, and lastly, a valuable resource on preventing sexual abuse.
The beginning of the book teaches us how a simple sleepover can turn into a nightmare that will impact a child well into adulthood. Merryn shares her personal experience, which is very difficult to read, but important for it provides the knowledge we all need in order to protect children. The takeaways include an understanding that abuse can happen when there are people around, when celebrations are occurring, and when we think our children are safe. Abuse can be perpetrated by neighbours, teachers, social workers, family and other people we think we can trust. Abusers do not operate by the same norms that non-abusers follow. They can be seemingly fearless in their “public” or “risky” attacks on children. Merryn’s experience teaches us that abuse can happen anytime and anywhere.
The middle of the book focuses on how the author came up with a solution to the dilemma, “children don’t tell”. Child victims of sexual abuse don’t have the words, the nerve, the developmental skills or understanding to out-think the abuser, and they don’t have the training. Merryn points out that children all over the US (and Canada, I might add) are trained in schools to “stop, drop and roll”, to “say no” and to avoid strangers. Merryn states that children are not taught to “get away and tell today.” To solve this gap in child safety, the author set out on a journey to have Erin’s Law passed in every State. This section, though wordy in its historical detailing, is inspiring as it proves how one dedicated and passionate person can make impactful and lasting change.
As a parent and an educator, I was very pleased to find resources in the final section of the book. The “Steps for Protecting Children” are a must read. “One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused” before they become adults. This stat alone imparts the importance of being proactive. Merryn outlines how to minimize risk, talk to children before it happens, stay alert, make a plan, act on suspicions and how to get involved. There is a clear step-by-step dialogue guideline for talking to children, which is very helpful. Additionally, the author lists a number of resources that are easy to access online.
As parents, we often avoid talking about sexual abuse for fear of causing nightmares, anxiety or any distress to our children. An Unimaginable Act convinces the reader that talking to your child is better than your child being at risk, and it provides clear examples on how to talk about sexual abuse in an age appropriate manner that should result in empowerment, not fearfulness. I caution readers that this book is difficult to read (especially the first section) because of the disturbing experiences Merryn had as a child. However, this story is also inspiring and informative and provides us with the knowledge to keep our children safe, to recognize the signs of abuse, and to help protect against vicious child predators.