A locally-based charity raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse is hoping to get people across the country interested in its message in 2012.
Founder Janet Watson, who started Shine Thru three years ago, says there are a number of events and campaigns planned this year to build awareness in the Columbia Valley.
The first takes place January 26, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Rocky River Grill and includes a fashion show, buffet and panel of experts who will discuss issues of enforcement and treatment for perpetrators and victims of abuse.
Watson says she hopes the panel, which will include representatives from the RCMP and social and victims’ services, will drive home the message that sexual abuse can happen in any community.
“People come up to me every week and say ‘it doesn’t happen here,’ but it does happen here, it happens everywhere,” she says.
The evening will include a display of Shine Thru’s clothing line as well, which is also on display permanently at the Valley Fitness Centre.
Tickets for the evening are available at the Fitness Centre and the Rocky River Grill for $20.
Watson, who has worked in victims’ services and around the court system herself, says she was driven to start up Shine Thru after seeing the difficulty authorities can have prosecuting cases and the impact of abuse on young victims.
“The police do their best to bring in a potential predator or suspect, and there are real hindrances,” she says. “Sometimes the Crown won’t even look at the case. It’s really, really hard to make a strong case.”
The non-profit, which hopes to gain charitable status this year, has three main goals: increasing the public’s awareness of sex abuse issues, petitioning the government to create stronger laws and better protect victims, and to create a counselling trust for victims and their families.
In addition to tomorrow’s event, Watson hopes to see the group stage a major music festival this August, which could draw up to 7,000 people to the valley. The festival would act as a fundraiser, and also continue spreading awareness, she says.
The group is also working with the District of Invermere to have flags displaying its logo flying from lamp posts in the downtown, to further get its name out to the public.
“If we just continue to keep the focus on (sexual abuse), that’s a sign to children,” says Watson.
“What would be really cool once these flags go up is for a child to develop enough confidence to say, ‘I can be strong enough to come forward.’ Because it’s a really sensitive area, and we need to turn the tables on that. We need to tell kids to be strong and proud, not scared and having this hidden kind of darkness.”
As the group gains more traction, Watson hopes its efforts will also inspire people outside the valley.
“We wanting to put a challenge out to all Canadians and say that if we can do this as individuals in a community than all Canadians can,” she says.
For more information on Shine Thru contact Watson at 250-342-5937 or firstname.lastname@example.org.