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Dinner aims to spark dialogue during fourth annual Women’s Week

| Thursday, March 17, 2016

Students and faculty gathered Wednesday night for the Celebration of Women Dinner, as part of Women’s Week, which is sponsored by Shades of Ebony and the Gender Relations Center (GRC).

Rachel Wallace, president of Shades of Ebony, said in her welcoming remarks that she is proud of how much Women’s Week, now in its fourth year, has grown.

“When I was just a freshman, I remembered upperclassmen asking us to help them with an idea they had, and they wanted to celebrate women and 40 years of women at Notre Dame,” she said. “We started out with the GRC doing three events in the spring of 2013, and this year, we have six events. We’ve really come a long way.”

According to Wallace, the Women’s Week theme reflects the theme for National Women’s Month; this year, the theme is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.” The dinner featured Kym Worthy, the current prosecutor from Wayne County, Michigan, as the keynote speaker.

Worthy, who graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1984, is known for filing charges against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and for working on a massive backlog of unprocessed rape kits. Despite these high-profile cases, she said she never intended to be a prosecutor.

“At that time, there weren’t very many female prosecutors at all,” Worthy said. “There weren’t many women, there certainly weren’t many people of color in the office — they kind of had the same view I had at the time, a skewed view that prosecutors were there to put African Americans in jail. That’s not true, but perception is reality for most people.”

Much of Worthy’s work has been devoted to domestic abuse, sexual assault and other women’s issues. According to her, these issues need to be addressed more fully.

“Why can we only be a more perfect union by paying attention to so-called ‘women’s issues?’ Because they’re exactly the issues we aren’t addressing,” she said. “And I feel they wouldn’t be ignored if it weren’t primarily female victims.”

In 2009, 11,000 abandoned unprocessed rape kits were found in a Detroit Police Warehouse. Worthy said it was extremely difficult to get funding from the city to test the kits and carry out prosecutions, if possible.

“Nobody was interested. Nobody wanted to help,” she said. “The police department wanted it to go away — it wasn’t on their watch. They didn’t care that it represented 11,000 victims.”

Some of the rape kits dated back 35 years, according to Worthy. She said while some women use the kits to make sure they’re not pregnant or have any STDs, most victims do it because they want justice.

“Women do it because they want to find their perpetrator,” Worthy said. “So, can you imagine finding out that, not only were you assaulted, not only did you go through that rape kit process, but that rape kit sat on a shelf for 30 years and nobody did anything about it?”

In order to form a more perfect union, Worthy said the country needs to stop neglecting women’s issues, because they affect everyone.

“We have to break the domestic abuse cycle,” she said. “We have to break the sexual assault cycle. We have to look at sexual assault in a different way — it’s the forgotten crime, no one really cares about it. If we want to have a more perfect union, we have to reexamine these issues, and it has to start with prosecutors.”

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley is one of the Associate News Editors for The Observer. A junior majoring in English and the Program of Liberal Studies, she hails from Flushing, MI and lives in Flaherty Hall.

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