Thursday September 7, 2006

Forum on Childhood Sexual Abuse

"Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse," a community forum to reach out to these women in the Dayton area, will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 18, in the Kennedy Union Ballroom on the University of Dayton's campus.

One out of every three women in this country is sexually assaulted, including rape and incest, by the age of 18. Yet, many of these women have had little, if any, support in dealing with the aftermath of the abuse.

"Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse," a community forum to reach out to these women in the Dayton area, will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 18, in the Kennedy Union Ballroom on the University of Dayton's campus. The event is part of National Women's Health Month and is free and open to the public. Parking is available in Lots A and S1 on campus. S1 will have a shuttle to Kennedy Union.

"We really need to increase community and individual awareness of women who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse," said Claire Renzetti, a nationally known expert in domestic violence, editor of the monthly international journal Violence Against Women and UD sociology professor. Renzetti will moderate the forum.

"Many of today's women survivors were sexually abused as children at a time when community resources were scarce or non-existent," Renzetti said. "Many of these women had no support in dealing with this aspect of their pasts, and we want to let them know of the community resources that exist now, which could still be relevant in their lives."

The featured speaker will be Holly Sowels-Jenkins, a Cincinnati author, playwright and international president of VOICES in Action Inc., a clearinghouse for information and referrals for victims of incest, rape or other sexual trauma. Sowels-Jenkins also is the executive director of Youth Opportunities United, a nonprofit organization that provides mentors and programming for at-risk youth, many of whom have been sexually abused.

When Sowels-Jenkins was 5, her father began sexually abusing her until she was 12. At the age of 11, and with her father's encouragement, she began an incestuous relationship with her brother, who was 18 months older, that lasted into their late teen years.

"There are many phases along the journey called ‘healing,'" Sowels-Jenkins said. "I just wanted to be healthy. And I wanted to help other people who've been sexually abused by teaching them to release the pain, so they can manage their lives. Because the memory of the abuse is not going to go away, it's important how we manage our lives in spite of the memories."

Sowels-Jenkins is married with three children and has written several books, including "Daddy Don't (Letters to My Father, A Story of Incest)" and "Childhood Sexual Abuse 101, Not an Elective," which has been on the required reading list at several universities.

She hopes the forum will reach a wide audience.

"We're going to have survivors, academics and professionals at this event," Sowels-Jenkins said. "I'm looking to provide hope to the survivors, education for the professionals to get their patients to a place of safety, and a base for the academics to teach professionals how to do that."

After hearing from Sowels-Jenkins, audience members will have the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session with her, and the forum's collaborating partners and experts. "Safe rooms" will be reserved and staffed by mental health professionals for audience members needing such assistance.

A public reception will follow at 9 p.m. in the Kennedy Union Torch Lounge. Before and after the program, local musician and songwriter Jayne Sachs will perform original work, including "Twisted Ballerina," a song about childhood sexual abuse, which was a finalist in the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

Community partners for the forum include Womanline, Artemis, Care House at Children's Medical Center, The Ohio Department of Health through the Wright State University Center for Healthy Communities, as well as the Women's Center and Fitz Center for Leadership in Community at the University of Dayton.

For more information, contact Womanline at 937-223-3446 or Linda Robertson at (937) 229-3257.