Darkness to Light

06 Nov 2020

Katelyn Brewer leads organization that helps prevent child sexual abuse

By Denise K. James 

Katelyn Brewer grew up in a small town—“fairly homogenous,” in her words. With her Irish-Catholic family and sheltered upbringing, the current CEO of Darkness to Light set her heart on a wider perspective and decided to major in French and international relations at Wheaton College in Boston. 

There, she spent her junior year abroad, living in Paris and Dublin and working for two different nonprofits that dealt with development in Africa. Brewer called the year “transformational.”

“I loved it,” she emphasized. “I came back to Wheaton and wrote my honors thesis on the effectiveness of aid.” 

Following graduation, Brewer dove headfirst into nonprofit work with Africare, moving back and forth between Johannesburg and Washington for eight years. When homesickness for her sister and firstborn nephew hit hard, she decided to take a full-time position in Washington with a nonprofit called Children of Fallen Patriots.

Then one of Brewer’s colleagues suggested her for the Darkness to Light CEO position through Kimberly Archer, a professional recruiter. Brewer found herself immediately intrigued.

Darkness to Light is a non-profit that empowers adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse through awareness, education, and stigma reduction. According to the group’s statistics, 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday.

“Having worked in nonprofit my whole career, I was astonished that Darkness to Light was working on a mission I hadn’t yet considered,” she said. “But I have a bleeding heart, and it felt important. I was hungry for something challenging.” 

Brewer accepted the position and relocated to Charleston. She knew Archer had chosen her for a distinct reason: She recognized the burdens caused by sexual abuse. Though Brewer hasn’t suffered sexual abuse herself, her loved ones have, and her level of compassion, coupled with professional acumen, made her an ideal fit. 

“Being an ally for these abused people is important,” she said. “The whole point of Darkness to Light is understanding the problem and changing our behavior to fix it.”

Brewer talked about how when she assumed her post four years ago, child sexual abuse was still quite a hush-hush topic—“not on the front of any paper,” she said.

However, she’s recently seen an important move to the forefront with these conversations, some of it due to the “Me Too” movement, some to other national and international stories. While Charleston, the birthplace of Darkness to Light, has always had a more open dialogue, Brewer would regularly come up against walls elsewhere. 

“As soon as I was outside of Charleston, people would say, ‘Oh, that’s a hard topic,’” she said. “This organization is a gift from Charleston to the rest of the world. It’s pretty magical that this group of people got together 20 years ago and created what is internationally recognized as the best adult training for recognizing and preventing sexual abuse.”

Many in Charleston are familiar with Darkness to Light’s training program and the organization goes into the workplace to give trainings to a captive audience. 

Facilitators are trained as “Stewards of Children.” Aside from the training, no special credentials are needed to make a difference. Brewer said this model is a large part of what drew her to her role. 

“When the founders built this, they built it in a community way. The Stewards of Children don’t have to have a master’s in social work. They just have to care, listen and follow the script.” 

Minimizing Instances of Abuse

Darkness to Light stewards teach other adults how to minimize instances where abuse could actually happen, thus changing behavior.

The organization’s vision is a world free of child sexual abuse, in which adults form prevention-oriented communities.

“Educating children alone to protect themselves is insufficient. The burden of prevention and protection must sit squarely on the shoulders of adults who are legally and morally responsible for the health and safety of children,” the group states.

This could be arriving at soccer practice or another extracurricular activity 15 minutes earlier than usual, not allowing a coach to drive a child home, or having a frank conversation with the new babysitter about your children’s knowledge of their bodies. It could also be learning to talk to other adults who have suffered abuse. 

“If someone brings up at a dinner party that they were abused, do you know what to say?” Brewer asked. “How do you carry yourself to support that person? The best thing is listening. People want to be heard.”

The COVID era hasn’t dampened the camaraderie among Brewer and her Darkness to Light colleagues – they’ve never been strangers to remote work. Much of the team is “all over the country,” according to Brewer, and her day consists of abundant Zoom meetings, as well as unpacking the “beautiful” new office in the heart of Park Circle. 

One new and notable development for the organization is the unveiling of a new smartphone app that will link to users’ personal calendars and prompt them in simple ways to take part in key behavioral changes such as arriving at soccer or dance earlier or calling a child’s guardian to chat before a sleepover. 

According to Brewer, a simple conversation goes a long way to protect children, and the app will aid in learning how to make those discussions less awkward. 

“Think of it like the Rosetta Stone program,” she said. “There will be practice conversations. We’re hoping the app will become a ‘buddy’ that can guide adults without a steward’s assistance.” 

International Reach

Darkness to Light is actively working on recruiting new stewards on an international level. Thanks to a recent partnership with a nonprofit in Mumbai, Darkness to Light is launching a branch in 2021 to train stewards in India.

More stateside expansion is on the horizon as well. A nonprofit in Jacksonville, Florida, known as the Monique Burr Foundation aimed at minimizing childhood bullying and abuse, recently partnered with Darkness to Light. 

Better resources for the Black, Latin and LGBT communities also are imminent. By the time you finish this article, Darkness to Light will likely have trained a whopping 2 million people worldwide. 

“Yes, we have a full plate,” Brewer mused. “But it keeps us busy and happy. The new office is a representation and a celebration of the continued growth at Darkness to Light.”

Brewer reflected on how her Irish-Catholic upbringing helped her understand the necessity of breaking down barriers with other people—an art she uses daily as CEO — and how people’s backgrounds contribute to who they are and how they address complex issues. 

“I’m a better person now because of travel, exposure and new ways of thinking. It’s the only way to understand and help people in circumstances you haven’t been part of,” she said.

To learn more about Darkness to Light, visit www.d2l.org.

Katelyn N. Brewer

Education: Wheaton College, Massachusetts - bachelor’s degrees in international relations and French

Family: Wife, Ada, and a dachshund, Milos 

Hobbies: “I love hiking. I’m also an amateur chef, and I love hosting dinner parties. I’ve hosted a Christmas brunch the second Saturday of December for 10 years.”

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