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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Raise Your Voice: Panelists discuss how to aid survivors of sexual assault

The final panel of Saint Mary’s College’s Raise Your Voice Symposium entitled “Activism and Advocacy” featured four panelists speaking on how their professions and community involvement work toward ending sexual violence. 

Howard Savage, director of preventative and education programs for the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking (ICESAHT), works with children and families. His specialty lies in encouraging men to be present and serve as positive fathers.

“I am primarily responsible for facilitating the different types of enrichment curriculum we have,” Savage said. “[The] curriculum is typically geared towards men, athletes, fraternities and young men. That’s my passion of who I want to target.”

Jo’Netta Neeley and Patrice Miller-Coleman are victim advocates within the Victim Assistance program at the Fort Wayne Police Department. They said they work with victims of all ages regarding all types of violence. 

“We start educating them, give resources to them, and empowering them, then they become our survivors,” Neeley said. “It’s our job to help them walk the criminal justice process… give them information about making knowledgeable decisions and empower them to make those decisions concerning their personal futures.”

The final panelist was Lane Obringer, a junior at Notre Dame who was the spring 2022 Callisto Campus Champion and just ended her term as director of gender relations, Title IX and women’s initiatives in student government. She shared a few examples of how she has advocated for victims during her time at Notre Dame.

“One of our really big initiatives is safety after parietals,” Obringer explained. “Making sure if you feel unsafe in a dorm of the opposite sex, you can leave without concern of a parietals violation.”

The four panelists who spoke at Activism and Advocacy.
The four panelists seated at a table preparing to speak about activism and advocacy.

Obringer also discussed Raise the Bar, a curriculum put together by Notre Dame Student Government that surveyed bar owners in South Bend regarding nightlife. That information was shared with wellness units at Notre Dame to help keep students safe. 

Liz Baumann, director of student involvement and advocacy at Saint Mary’s, facilitated the evening discussion. She asked the panel how individuals can get involved with advocacy work.

Miller-Coleman discussed an internship program that the Victim Assistance Office offers in which the Fort Wayne Police Department partners with Purdue Fort Wayne, Indiana University Fort Wayne and other colleges in the Fort Wayne area to allow criminal justice students to experience the practice up close.

Miller-Coleman’s ultimate advice for those wanting to get involved was to have the eagerness to do so.

“The passion of advocacy, of working and having the heart to work with those individuals is something that has to be in you," she said.

Neeley shared that Victim Assistance has a volunteer program that is open to anyone interested in joining. The volunteers organize drives and collect donations to help victims in need. 

Obringer advised students to get involved by finding a group that aligns with their beliefs and simply reaching out to them.

“Most often they’re willing to accept help,” she said. 

Savage shared that before working at ICESAHT, he got involved with victim advocacy by working for the Department of Child Services (DCS).

“I think that DCS is always hiring, they always need people to do the job,” he said. “It’s a difficult job, and it’s very very personal. It can be very rewarding, but it’s very taxing.”

Near the end of the panel, Neeley asked if the audience remembered the 2013 song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. She then finished by highlighting the importance of having conversations about victim advocacy and discussing the ways we can support victims.

“Sowing the seed and having this type of forum where the lines no longer have to be blurred because we’re being very specific about how we’re going to address it is just absolutely splendid,” she said.