YWCA honors detective for helping sexual assault survivors; survivors share their stories at ‘Stand Against Violence’ event
The beauty of a spring morning at Ways Garden played background to a dark but necessary subject being discussed at the YWCA Northcentral PA’s “Stand Against Violence” event held to educate people on the issue of sexual assault.
County Detective William Weber was awarded for his work toward helping sexual assault victims.
“Sexual assault is a horrendous crime that inflicts unimaginable pain,” said Dawn Linn, the YWCA’s executive director.
“It is hard to believe that one in six women during their lifetime will be impacted by sexual assault,” she said.
She noted that in 2020, the YWCA served over 240 Lycoming County individuals who were impacted by sexual assault. Victims included both males and females.
“It is critical that we provide awareness events. If we do not talk about the issues and the problems, we will never solve them,” Linn said.
“It is equally important for survivors to know that their community supports them and to know what resources are available and how to navigate them,” she added.
Representatives of various social and law enforcement agencies, such as the DA’s office, Children and Youth, the State Police and Big Brothers/Big Sisters were also at the event.
Survivors Gigi Kilroe and Deb Lubert shared their experiences living through abuse and sexual assault.
Kilroe recounted how she was raped during college, but like many victims, she buried it. She did visit a hospital, but minimized the incident by saying it had been a consensual experience.
“There was no police call. There was no one on campus to go to…I had no one to go to. No one even thought to say to me, you need to go to a counselor. I buried it. I thought it was my fault,” she said.
“I did what a lot of survivors do, I took that on, that it was my fault,” she added.
When she was raped a second time after she graduated from college, Kilroe said that time she told no one.
“I thought nobody’s going to believe me,” she stated.
Although she managed to have a successful career and found joy in her work, she said she struggled with self-esteem issues and at one time attempted suicide.
“It wasn’t that I wanted to die, it was just that I wanted the pain to go away,” she said. “I was at that point of such despair.”
Kilroe found a therapist to work with to help in dealing with the trauma.
“I tell survivors everywhere there is support available. Please do not be afraid to reach out. There are people who are there to help you,” she stressed.
Finally, when she was in her fifties, a family member revealed that they had molested her when she was a child.
“I could not breathe. This was the cancer at the core of my soul. This is what I was trying to get to all those years and I had blocked it,” she said. “Of all the things that I had survived, this was the hardest.”
“I thought for 50 years what you did affected me. It affected me in relationships, it affected me in intimacy issues. I was so angry, I wanted him to pay…but I got through it,” she added.
Kilroe said that when she was finally able to share with someone else she felt she had begun to heal.
“I wasn’t carrying that shame anymore. I was honest about what I’d been through. That was a beginning for me to keep going on this journey,” she said.
“Healing is really a journey. Everyone’s healing is different. It wasn’t until I believed in my soul that I deserved to heal. It wasn’t my fault,”
She encouraged every survivor to accept that their rape or abuse isn’t their fault.
“You deserve to heal. You deserve to take your power back,” she said.
Lubert also shared her journey from being sexually abused by family members.
“I internalized the pain…everything about the sexual abuse was taboo — never talk to anybody about it,” Lubert said.
Lubert shared that she was almost 50 years old before she could talk to anyone about her abuse.
Speaking before the program began, Weber stressed the importance of all the agencies working as a team in the county to try to help victims.
“We’ve got an incredible team of people that all work together on child abuse and sexual assault,” Weber said.
Weber enumerated the various groups involved in the multi-disciplinary task force that works from the moment the assault or abuse is reported right through to the trial phase.
He noted that when he was told that he was getting the award for his work, he was actually surprised.
“It’s not me, it’s the partnerships that we’ve developed and being able to work together to do it,” he said.