WILKES-BARRE - A member of one area agency will be lauded for his efforts as an advocate against rape in Luzerne and surrounding counties.
Patrick Rushton, 61, of Mountain Top, the outreach/education manager for the Victims Resource Center in Wilkes-Barre for the last 11 years, will receive the Visionary Voice Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape during its board of directors meeting in Harrisburg on Thursday.
Rushton arrived at the VRC shortly after the retired captain left a 20-year career with the Wilkes-Barre Police Department in December 2001, but his introduction to the severity of sexual and domestic violence issues began years prior. In the 1990s, Rushton was a sergeant when he was appointed to a Domestic Violence Task Force.
“We developed a domestic violence protocol for law enforcement,” Rushton said. “That’s what first got me working with the Victims Resource Center and the Domestic Violence Service Center.”
Rushton worked often with the VRC, an agency founded as a rape crisis center in 1974 that now aims to prevent sexual violence and other types of crime in Luzerne, Wyoming and Carbon counties. In fact, he helped develop a form for police officers that the agency still uses today.
After applying to VRC as a counselor advocate, he was instead hired as the outreach manager and assumed the role of education manager about six years ago.
The agency coordinates various rape awareness and prevention programs, but it has also focused more recently on training bystanders to identify risk factors of sexual abuse and act to prevent them from the outside.
“Most people will never see a rape in progress. Our goal is to get people to speak up when they see behaviors that may lead to sexual assault,” Rushton said. “We have targeted colleges and universities to try to prevent violence on those campuses through bystander intervention programs.”
While he is honored to receive the Visionary Voice Award, he said the nomination left him speechless.
“I think that the people at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape who nominated me for this have recognized that our agency — not me, but our agency — has really become one of the leaders in the state in preventing sexual violence,” he said. “It’s more about all of the work that everyone here at VRC does.”
It’s estimated that one in four girls and one in six boys under age 18 will be victims of sexual assault. One in four women and one in 33 men may also be victims, but many cases at any age are likely to go unreported, Rushton said.
“More and more people are recognizing rape as a serious issue, and not just as a women’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue,” Rushton said. “Who are the victims? They’re not nameless faces. They’re our daughters, our granddaughters, our wives, girlfriends, mothers, and grandmothers. That’s why it’s important to us as men.”
Early intervention is key to changing the culture, but long term change can admittedly take several generations. Rushton said programs like those offered by the VRC are helping to lay some positive groundwork.
“I think our work has impact,” he said.