Candlelight vigil expands in scope, offers information to take action

Program on March 4 at Penn State York is open to the public
York Candlelight Vigil

Penn State York students, faculty, staff, and members of the community took part in a candlelight  vigil last year to raise awareness about child abuse and prevention.  This year's program has been expanded to include raising awareness about human trafficking and sexual assault, in addition to child abuse.  The event is set for March 4 at noon, and is free and open to the public.  Students in the Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) Club organize the event each year.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

Penn State York students in the Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) Club are preparing for the ninth annual candlelight vigil for child abuse awareness on Wednesday, March 4 at the campus. The program has been expanded to include raising awareness about human trafficking and sexual assault, in addition to the issue of child abuse. Programming begins at noon in the Precision Custom Components Community Room, and then heads outdoors for additional activities.

“We have decided to incorporate human trafficking and assault into the annual candlelight vigil, and make it the main focus,” said Victoria Lemmon, an HDFS student at Penn State York and coordinator of the program. “Human trafficking is the fastest growing organized crime industry in the United States, affecting more than 40 million people worldwide,” said Lemmon. “It can no longer be a taboo subject, and the first step to combating human trafficking is to spread awareness,” she said. “I have decided to dedicate the rest of my educational career to researching human trafficking.”

Community organizations, including the YWCA, the York County Children’s Advocacy Center, the Human Trafficking Task Force, and the York County Alliance against Sexual Violence, and others, will have tables of information available in the community room to share with attendees beginning at noon.

At about 12:15 p.m., Shari Kim, from the Susquehanna Valley Community Mental Health Services, will speak. She is a licensed psychologist and certified addictions counselor, who specializes in treatment of addictions and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She is also certified to provide eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, which is an evidence-based treatment for PTSD.

Kim is the chairperson of the Behavioral Health Workgroup for the York County Human Trafficking Task Force and the Human Trafficking Subcommittee for the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. She also serves as the disaster response network coordinator for the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and the regional co-lead for disaster mental health with the American Red Cross.

Following Kim’s speech, the group will head outdoors to participate in the Red Sand Project. The Red Sand Project is a participatory artwork experience that was created by Molly Gochman in 2014. The sidewalk installation aims to create opportunities for people to question, connect, and take action against the vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking, Those in attendance will pour red sand into the cracks in the sidewalk outside the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center to symbolize how the victims of human trafficking, child abuse, and sexual assault fall through the cracks in society. The candlelight vigil will follow.

Participants in the vigil will light a candle and are invited to say the following pledge: “I believe that every child has a right to grow up free from the shadow of abuse. I believe that the responsibility to protect children rests solely in adult hands. I believe that, as adults, we must remain ever vigilant and dedicate no less than the best of ourselves to that purpose. To all the victims of abuse, male and female, adult and children, known and unknown: I pledge to educate myself about the realities of child abuse; I pledge to give a voice and report any and all suspicions; I pledge to cast a light in the darkness by doing the right thing the first time, every time.” A moment of silence will also be observed.

In the fall of 2011, students in the HDFS Club made plans to hold an event in November to raise awareness about child abuse and provide information about prevention. Work on this event intensified, and a decision was made to make it an annual event, after the 2011 revelations about Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing children were presented. Since that time, a vigil has been held annually.

The vigil was moved from fall to spring since Childhood Abuse Awareness month is in April, and features students in the HDFS program sharing an important message of hope and healing.