Children’s safe haven

With April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Georgia is among the states that have instituted Erin’s Law, requiring prevention education on sexual abuse and sexual assault in public schools starting in kindergarten. The law passed last May. It was another step to protect children within a system in which they rarely feel safe turning to an adult when they’ve been harmed, says Jinger Robins, chief executive officer of SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center in Marietta.

"The rates at which cases come in is higher," said Robins. "And the frequency of it as an everyday occurrence is coming faster, and at a more severe level."

The SafePath center is a child-focused, friendly environment, where the nonprofit brings children and families together with law enforcement and agencies All services are free of charge. The organization hosts its annual fundraiser gala, April 27, at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel on Galleria Parkway. SafePath receives federal and state funding, but depends on community support as well. The fundraising goal this year is $350,000.

Erin Merryn, the inspiration behind Erin’s Law, is the featured speaker. At the age of 13, in her hometown of Illinois, Merryn revealed she had been sexually abused during two different periods of childhood starting at age 6.

“I was terrified that they wouldn’t believe me,” said Merryn. “I went from feeling so alone in this world to suddenly having all these people supporting and backing me. I walked out feeling completely relieved, and this anxiety had been lifted.”

The Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that one in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

SafePath provides continuing therapy services for children. “Depending on the level of trauma, they can be very resilient, but during puberty years they may have triggers when they start to date. Suicide is huge in Georgia with adolescents.”

“Anything we can do to return a child to a decent life, we are happy to do,” said Robins.

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