Opinion: I Was Silent For 25 Years. No More.
For most of my life it was unthinkable that I would ever talk about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child — let alone break my silence on the state Senate floor.
I was silent for 25 years. For most of my life, it was unthinkable to me that I would ever feel ready to share the sexual abuse I had experienced as a child — let alone speak up about it on the floor of the New York State Senate. But what I thought was even further out of reach was the strength and solidarity I would find in the fight to end child sexual abuse. I have learned an enormous amount this year about what public service can mean from my work alongside so many survivors and advocates.
Nine months ago, as I cast one of my first votes as a New York legislator in favor of the Child Victims Act, I shared that I was a survivor of child sexual abuse. The CVA extends the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse to file both criminal and civil cases against their abusers. It also creates a one-year window, which began Aug. 14, allowing any survivor — no matter their age — to file a civil claim against their abuser and any institution that enabled the abuse they experienced.
I had no idea that at the same time I cast my vote, three of my colleagues in the New York State Assembly were also sharing their stories. In the months since, we have found sisterhood and solidarity in our shared pain — and in our resolve to end childhood sexual violence and abuse.
These women, and the countless other survivors who have fought like hell to pass the CVA, continue to amaze me with their resilience and perseverance. They have found a way to harness some of their darkest experiences into light, working to ensure that others do not experience the same abuse they do — or at the very least have a pathway to justice.
Perhaps no one exemplifies this more than Erin Merryn. Erin has chosen to share her experience of sexual abuse as a child in a nationwide crusade to end sexual violence against children. Thanks to her advocacy, 37 states have passed Erin’s Law, requiring schools to provide preventative child sexual abuse education.
I was beyond proud to carry Erin’s Law in New York, and finally see it over the finish line this year. Beginning next school year, all K-8 students will receive age-appropriate education about child sexual abuse and personal body safety. Erin’s Law will give children the knowledge they need to ask for help, hopefully forestalling lasting trauma. Most importantly, it will remind children that they do not have to suffer in silence the way I did.
With the passage of Erin’s Law and the CVA, New York is entering a new era of meaningful accountability. Together, these laws make it clear that sexual abuse of children is unacceptable in the state of New York. No longer will abusers be able to hide in the shadows, protected by institutions or a legal system blind to the realities of trauma.
These laws represent the power of vulnerability and emotional honesty. The legislators who have bravely stood up and shared their stories — and the survivors who have been banging on the doors of Albany offices for years — made these laws possible. Our victory is a reminder of the difference it can make when one person chooses to stand up and speak from their heart.
It has been a true honor to be part of a network of survivors who have shared some of their deepest traumas to ensure that others do not have to suffer what they experienced. They have taught me an enormous amount about service, and what it means to sacrifice on behalf of others. I am proud to have played even a small role in the movement that brought the Child Victims Act and Erin’s Law to fruition. And I am even prouder to stand with the community of survivors and advocates who made it happen.
If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, organizations like Safe Horizon can help you learn more about your options.