Women’s Empowerment Board Striving for Change

Women’s Empowerment Board striving for change

Sep. 22, 2013

Written by
Anna Jeffries
Advocate Reporter

If you go
What: Women’s Empowerment Board meeting
When: 4 to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 11
Where: Mental Health America of Licking County, 65 Messimer Drive, Newark
FYI: The group is open to any woman in Licking County who wants to participate. For more information, call Mental Health America at 740-788-0300 or email parentsupportbop@mhalc.org.

NEWARK — Donna Gibson doesn’t want her young granddaughter to ever have to experience some of the things she’s gone through.

An assault survivor, she’s struggled with fear, emotional pain and stigma.

That’s why she started the Women’s Empowerment Board — to talk about ways to make things better for the young women of Licking County.

“I’d like to see (my granddaughter) in a more safe and equal environment,” she said. “I think the road needs to be paved a lot more smoother for our young girls.”

The board had its first meeting Thursday, which included representatives from Mental Health America of Licking County, Bridges out of Poverty, Ohio State University-Newark and Denison University.

Gibson, who is the parent support and Bridges out of Poverty coordinator for MHA, began the meeting by sharing her own experiences.

After being assaulted in July 2012, she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. She felt completely alone.

“I thought there was something wrong with me,” she said. “I had no idea how to respond.”

Through counseling, Gibson realized the way she responded to the trauma was normal. She also realized how many women are ashamed to talk about what happened to them.

“I realized if I hide (my story), I can’t help anyone,” she said. “All I can do now is take what this trauma has shown me and (help others).”

She decided to start a group where women could find a safe place to share their stories.

But she wanted to do even more than talk; she wanted to take action.

“There are things out there that shouldn’t be happening where women are concerned,” she said. “I know there are some things we need to quit just talking about. Let’s start finding some issues and finding some answers.”

Her goal with the empowerment board is to focus on several improvements that could be made involving women in Licking County.

At Thursday’s meeting she encouraged the women to bring up things they would like to address.

Several women expressed the needs for more domestic violence resources and a greater understanding of what happens to victims.

One woman said she wants to see more programs to help women who’ve been incarcerated find jobs and housing. Another wanted to see more resources for women with mental illnesses.

A student at Denison University expressed concern about the safety of women on Licking County campuses.

She said she was concerned that the attitude on campus is geared more toward teaching women how to protect themselves than focusing on educating men that sexual assault is wrong.

Gibson asked all the women at the meeting to come up with three topics they would like the group to investigate. Her plan is to come up with some issues to research at the meeting on Oct. 11.

“There are no perfect answers but if people band together, we can make some headway and start a new conversation,” she said. “I think that would be a starting point.”

She wants the group to make connections to local law enforcement agencies, community groups and local resources who can help them find answers and make improvements.

“I truly believe if we can get together we can say, ‘We know this stuff is happening,’” she said. “I believe Licking County could be a guideline for other counties in addressing (some of these things).”

ajeffries@newark

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Twitter: @amsjeffries