Last week the world learned what happened to Jacob Wetterling 27 years ago when Danny Heinrich admitted in court Tuesday that he abducted, sexually assaulted and killed Wetterling. As a parent, I cannot imagine the pain of this. Amidst this pain and sorrow, I am reminded of my admiration for Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling. I have had the privilege of knowing Patty for about 10 years: our paths have crossed on through the Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitationand the Rape Prevention and Education program (where she was the RPE Coordinator through the Minnesota Department of Health for many years).
Patty has always seen the answer to sexual violence to be prevention. She has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to changing the conditions that create sexual violence as the means to create the world we want to live in. Her colleague and friend (and PreventConnect’s #PowerInPrevention Ending Child Sexual Abuse web conference series host) Cordelia Anderson wrote eloquently how Patty is a “beacon of hope” to so many people as she focused her efforts not only the few incidents like the one of her son, but toward preventing sexual abuse of all children.
As a powerful national leader on prevention, Patty had been a guest on a PreventConnect web conference. To this day PreventConnect web conference host Annie Lyles often speaks about what Patty taught her about how the measure progress in sexual violence prevention given the limited number of initiatives that have undergone rigorous research. Patty said that we need to invest in whatever brings us closer to equity and respect.
Patty demonstrates how to embody the change we want to see. After learning about her son’s death, Patty asked people to support in this manner:
Say a prayer.
Light a candle.
Be with friends.
Play with your children.
Eat ice cream.
Help your neighbor.
That is what will bring me comfort today.
May all of us in the movement to prevent sexual violence have this grace and know that, as Patty says, “together we will make a difference.”