Several dozen students, educators and community members gathered at Penn State York on Thursday evening to commemorate child-abuse victims.

The sixth-annual “Lest We Forget” candlelight vigil was held by the Council on Family Relations and multicultural clubs on campus. Shawnee Hostetter, president of the Council on Family Relations, said the annual event was initially held as a one-time remembrance ceremony in 2011, before the revelations of now-convicted rapist Jerry Sandusky came to light and forever changed the university.

Sandusky, 73, was found guilty in 2012 of 45 counts of criminal activity, including sexual assault. He is serving a 30-60 year prison sentence.

“After that, it felt more appropriate to keep doing it,” Hostetter said.

Recently, former Penn State President Graham Spanier was convicted of one count of child endangerment by a jury after a yearslong legal battle among several Penn State officials, including Spanier. Former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and former senior vice president Gary Schultz recently pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of children in early March.

Stacy Rae, a senior at the school, said the event was important because as a human-development and family-studies major, she especially sees how important it is to care for and protect the most vulnerable people in the community.

“Children are important, some are abused, and we need to make sure people know that,” she said.

Hostetter and Rae said they were happy with the turnout of about 50 people.

“(The turnout) really depends on a lot of things,” said Hostetter, who added that their collaboration with the multicultural club helped schedule the event around the school’s weekly Coffee Hour, which has free hot drinks and snacks available for students.

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The clothesline: For the first time, the event featured students citing child-abuse statistics to attendees. The Council on Family Relations club collaborated with a class on campus on values and ethics taught by HDFS professor Amber Seidel.

“They did a small project on abused children, and we wanted to share some of what we found,” Seidel said. The project involved students researching recently published statistics on child abuse and finding one that struck them the most.

At the ceremony, students read aloud their chosen statistic from a poster and received a clothesline pin and hung it on a makeshift clothesline. The line of statistics hanging from a thread filled the entire clothesline.

“It seems like a great way to get some background (to the audience) on abuse,” Seidel said.

She mentioned the event was not held only for adults.

“Children need to know about this,” Seidel said. “Children need to know that there are people out there that may not be nice to them all the time.”

She added that some children might not fully understand what is being referred to, but giving them the awareness to potential problems is healthy.

“If it’s above their head it’s OK, but we still talk to them,” Seidel said.

The pledge: After the clothesline event, attendees were handed either tea candles or small candles and a pledge sheet. Attendees formed a large circle outside in light rain to read aloud the three pledges.

“To all the victims of abuse, male and female, adult and child, known and unknown,” the audience said in unison, “I pledge to educate myself about the realities of child abuse.”

“I pledge to give voice and report any and all suspicions; I pledge to cast a light in the darkness by doing the right things the first time — every time.” the group concluded.

One student in Seidel’s class, Britney Hartsock, brought her 4-year-old son, Damien, to the vigil.

“I thought it was very neat,” Hartsock, a first-time attendant, said. “It felt very personal, because it was a smaller group.”

Hartsock said her chosen statistic, that three out of every four abused children are abused by someone they know, hit her personally.

“The circle of trust stuck out to me,” Hartsock said. “When I first read that, my heart just shattered.”

The Penn State York freshman said having a small child makes the statistic especially painful to think about.

“To think it could be possibly someone you know that could abuse your child,” she said, “it’s hard to even imagine.”

Junior Gonzalez is the education reporter at The York Dispatch. Follow him on twitter @EducationYD, or email him at

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