Laura’s Light, OHIO Survivor Advocacy Program hold fundraiser to support assault survivors

Published: October 5, 2023 Author: Carmen Szukaitis, BSJ '24

Sexual assault remains a key issue in modern times, with more than 440,000 assaults on individuals age 12 and older taking place each year in the United States, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice. Nonprofits and survivor organizations alike work to educate the population and support victims of sexual and domestic violence.

OHIO does its part to support its student survivors through the OHIO Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP), which provides advocacy and crisis intervention services to survivors and co-survivors through licensed professionals. This Homecoming Weekend, SAP is teaming up with Michigan-based Laura’s Light to host the first “Light Up Ohio U” luminary fundraiser. 

Laura’s Light is a nonprofit organization founded in honor of the late Laura Ditka, BSC ’85, a prominent Pittsburgh attorney and an Ohio University alumna who dedicated her life to advocating for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. According to the organization’s website, she took 160 child abuse cases to trial throughout her 30-year legal career.

Laura’s sister-in-law, Sam MacArtney Ditka, AB ’93, was one of the nonprofit’s founding board of trustee members. When Laura died in 2018, Ditka said she left a tremendous void in the world of support, advocacy and care for survivors. 

“When we founded Laura’s Light, family and friends came together,” said Claire Fetters, BBA ’85, chairman of the board of trustees for the nonprofit. “We all agreed that Laura was a force of nature, but she was [also] a force of nurture. Our three pillars are focused on that nurturing part of survivorship.”

The first pillar is safety, aiming to support such organizations as Gwen’s Girls and Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) in their missions to provide a safe space for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. The second pillar is education: “We want to be a champion of awareness and prevention in sexual assault,” Fetters said. And the third pillar of Laura’s Light’s mission is support, as an immense part of Laura’s focus was supporting survivors. 

An image of luminaries next to one another

Fetters is working closely with Kimberly Rouse, BA ’11, MSW ’12, PHD ’21, assistant dean of students and director of SAP to produce the inaugural Light Up Ohio U event. Together, the groups are selling luminaries to be displayed during Homecoming Weekend for $20 apiece, with a goal to raise $5,000. Proceeds from the event will go to SAP’s Survivor Emergency Fund, providing financial assistance to student survivors. The funds can be used to cover medical bills, rent, new phones and other safety measures. 

Rouse said SAP has great institutional funding support for the department operations, but the survivor emergency fund is 100 percent donor-funded, so there is only a limited amount of money available at any given time.

“It's been a lot of smaller donations, which is great. But, as soon as you use that money, it's gone,” Rouse said. “Laura's Light is doing the luminary fundraiser for that fund, which will be great because it's the largest fundraiser we've had for the emergency fund.”

Fetters said collaborating with SAP on this fundraiser aligns with the philanthropy work Laura’s Light performs. 

“We wanted to bring back Laura to Ohio University and get Ohio University alumni involved in this cause,” Fetters said. “[SAP does] get funding from Ohio University, but it's limited, so this is the project fund they're initiating—and we wanted to be right there at the forefront and help with that.”

SAP’s services are available to all OHIO student survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic and/or dating violence, and stalking, regardless of when or where an incident occurred. 

All luminaries will be displayed at Scripps Amphitheater on OHIO’s main campus on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 7 p.m. to midnight. 

To donate and learn more about this event, visit the website. Donations can be made to the Survivor Emergency Fund at any time by visiting this website.

For additional information, see the Survivor Advocacy Program website.