Anti-violence campaign kicks off
Chester County leaders gather as a ‘Coordinated Community Campaign’ to end domestic and sexual violence
DOWNINGTOWN >> Leaders gathered in Downingtown as part of the Coordinated Community Campaign to end domestic and sexual violence in Chester County.
The campaign began on Oct. 4 at the Downingtown Municipal Building during Domestic Violence Month with nearly 30 leaders. Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell, representatives from the Chester County Fund for Women and Girls, the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County (CVC), Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (DVCCC), invited the District Attorney’s office, law enforcement, school districts, universities and mayors to join the campaign. Maxwell, a Democrat, is running against incumbent Republican state Rep. Harry Lewis Jr. in the 74th Legislative District.
The goal of the taskforce leaders is to empower the community to learn more about domestic and sexual violence. The more than two-hour discussion focused on resolutions, what
currently is and what can be done to address the violence.
“We are vastly improved from where we used to be – the bad old days,” District Attorney Tom Hogan aid about the days that cases would not make it to court, before law enforcement, attorneys and victims had the tools.
He said now the district attorneys have the tools to work with the police to protect the victim with the assistance by the CVC and the DVC. He said they work with the victims and let them decide if they want to press charges. He said it is difficult for women to relive what happened to them during the trial with the media reporting on it.
“We manage to get them through it,” Hogan said, “and usually, win or lose, they are stronger at the other end of it because of what the people in this room do to support them.”
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Frei said advocates being available to the survivor helps, by letting them know that they are not alone. Downingtown Police Chief Howard Holland said CVC began a program with the police so that a victim could talk to an advocate while police were on-scene during a domestic violence case, not just afterward.
Lynn Klingensmith, director of Social Equity at West Chester University discussed the Green Dot bystander intervention program to reduce violence, and other programs offered to help males understand their role and behavior, and how they can help. Klingensmith said it is a community issue. Several speakers said their respective programs educate people about unhealthy relationships and abusive behaviors.
CVC Executive Director Peggy Gusz, Tisha Brown, prevention/education specialist and Carol Intintole, community outreach, discussed the programs offered in the schools to educate kindergarten through 12th-grade students and college students about healthy relationships, kids being able to state their boundaries and if they are uncomfortable or upset.
“When we have kids who are hurting,” Intintole said, “they turn into adults who are hurting.”
Terry Moody of the DVCCC said during presentations in schools they concentrate on unhealthy relationships versus dating violence. Domestic violence affects one in four women and one in seven men. Moody said one in three teenagers are affected, male and female alike. She said there needs to be more help for abusers to stop their behavior.
Some speakers said the behavior is learned, sometimes in their homes.
Hogan encouraged one solution is parenting, which he said has to happen at home instead of kids being raised in their schools or by law enforcement. The leaders talked about how to reach parents to educate them about certain issues, including social media. Several school district officials said they talk to parents about such matters during back-to-school nights.
“I very much believe that we live in a culture which allows these things to continue to happen,” said West Chester University student Sabina Sister. “I think we are raising our men to fit this kind of very violent masculine role, we objectify and sexualize women on a daily basis.”
She said she tries to work with other students to change that culture. Or it will continue, she added.
West Chester University leaders and Christine Dunleavy, of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, said they offer masculinity training. Dunleavy noted that the training followed alleged hazing incidents involving its Conestoga High School football team that received media attention.
Several leaders also noted that pornography is a factor because they said young kids believe that what they see is normal sexual behavior, but said some is actually violent.
Hogan, among other leaders, encouraged support of state Rep. Becky Corbin’s House Bill 1581 that would make strangulation a felony offense. Specifically her proposed legislation would define criminal strangulation as “knowingly or intentionally impeding the breathing or circulation of blood of another person by applying pressure to the throat or neck, or blocking the nose and mouth of a person.” Corbin, R-155, is up for reelection against Democrat James Burns.
Carol Rothera of the West Chester Area School District and Tina Forsythe of the Downingtown Area School District talked about the district programs to help the students and to prevent violence. Rothera said its three high schools offer “say something” to empower and educate students to access adults if they see something, hear something or witness something that they either do not understand or think is wrong. The program followed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2013. Forsythe noted that several programs involve positive messages to support students and to provide them with safety resources and hotlines.
The Coordinated Community Campaign to end domestic and sexual violence in Chester County began on Oct. 4 at the Downingtown Municipal Building during Domestic Violence Month with nearly 30 leaders. West Chester University student Sabina Sister speaks to fellow attendees.