By Kate Delaney, Staff Writer
On Thursday evening, the Women’s Center at Gettysburg College hosted Take Back the Night, an international event that focuses on ending sexual and domestic violence. The annual event featured Kelly Smith, Community Service Officer for the Pennsylvania State Police, as the keynote speaker.
Smith began by thanking the Women’s Center for hosting the event and describing her experience with domestic violence cases as a police officer. She remembers one case when she first began as an officer, where she was called for a home invasion that had turned into rape. As the only female on the squad, she was expected to ask the victim questions, questions that were “highly personal and difficult to answer even if she weren’t a victim of sexual assault.” Yet, the victim answered all of the questions without hesitation. Smith was “amazed at how strong the victim was and how she never wavered.”
Smith also noted that “these types of cases are all too common,” but she is “incredibly thankful for community support groups that help victims of sexual assault.” From these cases and her own experiences as a female police officer, Smith hopes these “stories make more and more of an impact and we see an end to this kind of violence.”
Faith Biesecker, Lieutenant for the Gettysburg College Department of Public Safety and Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator, and Jessica Ritter, the Victims Services Advocate with Survivors Inc., spoke about their efforts on Gettysburg campus.
“Survivors Inc. is the only sexual assault and human trafficking group in Adams County,” Ritter explained.
Biesecker and Ritter spoke about the three-year plan that Gettysburg has created with the grant received from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women in 2017. Now, almost halfway through the plan, they pointed out that “programming around violence prevention and response has been greatly expanded, and DPS has been able to streamline their resources and response practices, working towards making everyone feel comfortable.”
In the coming years, Biesecker and Ritter want to see their work become unnecessary, but they will start small—with continuation of conversations around consent and healthy relationships, violence among marginalized cultures, bystander intervention, Ritter said.
They hope to see these conversations come together in a series of panels, and they hope that bystander intervention will become an ordinary occurrence on the Gettysburg campus, and not just when it comes to sexual assault.
Caroline Lewis, one of the program coordinators of the Women’s Center this year, also spoke about her own experience with sexual violence and abusive relationships. She felt that she “had been so scared to talk about these issues in [her] own life, but [her] fear stemmed from guilt—how could she encourage women to stand up and speak out about these issues when she had allowed herself to be coerced into an unhealthy relationship?” However, the power of the Me Too movement encouraged her to share what had happened to her. In reading the stories these women shared, she “never once thought that any of these women were weak,” a perception that she herself had feared. She urged all women to “come up to bat for each other, as the words ‘I hear you,’ ‘I believe you,’ and ‘Me Too’ are so incredibly powerful.”
Survivors Inc. was then presented with a $3,250 check from the proceeds of The Vagina Monologues. The contribution was the largest donation made from the Vagina Monologues in the past eleven years by a sizable amount.