Thank you, MNCASA

I’ve been sitting here for a good 20 minutes wondering how in the world to start this blog post. The truth is, I have no idea how to start. I cannot even begin to explain the swirl of thoughts and emotions going through my head right now.

Last night.

*Wow*

On February 22nd, I received a letter from the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA). It started like this:

“Dear Joy,

On behalf of the board of directors, staff and partner programs of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, I am pleased to notify you of your selection as an AWARE 2016 Award recipient. Each year MNCASA recognizes citizens, researchers, advocates and policy makers in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Awardees are named for their individual creativity and perseverance to end sexual violence. We are honoring you for your work to shed light on unresolved issues of child sexual abuse that occurred decades ago. Because of your efforts, victims, who may have felt silenced, have had their voices heard and a perpetrator is being held accountable for harm.”

I believe there are those moments in each of our lives when you take pause, stand outside of yourself, and say, “Well, now. THAT was something.” For me, this was indeed, one of those moments.

In fact, it was SO MUCH “something” that I just couldn’t stop smiling. For days, I smiled through tears, bewilderment, and dare I say it… JOY. It was as if everything I had done… for all those reasons I could never explain… had all come down to this. Suddenly, it all made sense. And it was… deep.

All the phone calls, emails, questions, blog posts, tips, timelines, newspaper articles, Google lookups, trips to the library, and date nights with the microfilm reader had all… MATTERED. In the end, it was all 100% worth it.

You see, this wasn’t just a story about a cold case kidnapping. Somewhere along the line, it became a quest for answers… and for justice… for a group of boys who were never heard and barely believed. It wasn’t just about Paynesville, or Cold Spring, or St. Joseph. It was about KIDS… right here in my own backyard… who trusted and believed that they could bike to the store, camp in the woods, walk home from the pizza place, or give directions to a stranger… without fear for their personal safety. They were just KIDS, whose confidence was shook not only by the act itself, but by a system that seemed to ignore them.

We have to do better. And we ARE doing better, thanks in large part to organizations like MNCASA who are on the front lines every day, making a difference and advocating for victims.

We are doing better because of men like John Choi, Ron Latz, and Steve Simon who were also honored with a 2016 AWARE Award. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was recognized for his leadership on the issue of sexual violence, particularly his work engaging men and boys. Senator Ron Latz and Secretary of State Steve Simon were both recognized for their leadership as the Chief Authors of the Minnesota Child Victims Act.

We are also doing better because of men like Jared Scheierl, whose bravery in sharing his own story helped shed light on the Paynesville assault cluster and made it OK for others to come forward. In so doing, Jared not only helped solve his own case, he also got a dangerous child predator off the street.

Finally, we are doing better because of the tireless efforts of one woman… a five-foot-one-inch GIANT named Patty Wetterling. Last night, Patty received MNCASA’s highest honor, the Visionary Voice Award, which recognizes the creativity and hard work of individuals around the country who have demonstrated outstanding work to end sexual violence.

From MNCASA’s Facebook page: “Patty Wetterling has been a source of hope and inspiration to victims and parents of children who have been sexually abused. Her tireless advocacy for primary prevention of sexual violence and rational sex offender management policies has made an indelible impact on the state and the nation. Through her many years as the Director of Sexual Violence Prevention for the Minnesota Department of Health, Patty advanced programming and policy in support of primary prevention in Minnesota. Her national efforts through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation have helped shape policies and organizational practices to end child sexual abuse and exploitation.”

To be there in that room… among those giants… learning about all the amazing work that’s being done… watching Patty receive her award… listening to her wow the crowd with her wit, wisdom, and grace… Well, honestly… how do I put that into words?

Amazing? Awe-inspring? Mind-blowing? Nope… nothing quite touches it. If I had to choose one word, I guess it would be “aspiring.” Simply put, I aspire to their greatness… all of them… their collective passion, hope, bravery, kindness, and strength.

Thank you MNCASA… and Patty… and Jared… and all the other giants in the room.

You aspire me.

Photo courtesy of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center

Photo courtesy of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center

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