Turning on the power

Katelyn Brewer ’07 fuels fight against child sex abuse

Katelyn Brewer ’07 speaks at Ignite, Darkness to Light’s national prevention conference. (Photo by Stephanie Eley)

When Katelyn Brewer ’07 sat in her office last January watching the live broadcast of current and former gymnasts testify against Larry Nassar—the USA Gymnastics doctor who was later convicted of sexually abusing young athletes—she was moved to tears. And then she was compelled to act.

“I needed to do something,” said Brewer, who is president and CEO of the Charleston, S.C.-based nonprofit Darkness to Light. The organization has been working to empower adults to prevent sexual abuse of children since 2000.

“Aly Raisman’s testimony, in particular, really moved me. I did some research, found Aly’s manager, and left an impassionate and rambling voicemail asking what we could do best to help this community. Aly emailed me back within 30 minutes,” Brewer said.

A few days later, they had a two-hour call, in which Brewer shared with Raisman about Darkness to Light, and how they could collaborate to better educate people on the signs of sexual abuse, and prevention.

As a result, in March 2018, Raisman and Brewer launched the “Flip the Switch” campaign (fliptheswitchcampaign.org).

This campaign provides free training—designed and created by Darkness to Light—for all adults involved in youth sports. So far, more than 4,000 have taken advantage of the training, which teaches how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.

Brewer’s ability to speak with authenticity and clarity on issues that matter to her, and to take effective action, has been her hallmark since she graduated from Wheaton.

Professor of Political Science Gerard Huiskamp said even as a student in his international relations courses, Brewer had an ability to inspire others.

“She is passionate about learning, ideas and throwing herself in,” he said. (Brewer’s honors thesis was on the effectiveness of nonprofits.)

After graduation, Brewer, who double majored in international relations and French, worked at community development nonprofit Africare, for which she managed all Johannesburg-based programmatic activity and regional business development initiatives for Southern Africa. More recently, before she joined Darkness to Light in November 2016, she was chief of operations at Washington, D.C.-based Fallen Patriots, a foundation that supports children of military veterans.

In all of these capacities, she has worked to strengthen nonprofits so they can achieve their critical social goals.

To date, Darkness to Light has trained more than 1.7 million people nationally and internationally.

The majority of the sexual abuse (90 percent, according to Brewer) is perpetuated by people that the young survivors know and trust.

“We conservatively estimate that one out of 10 people experience physical sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. It’s a staggering statistic. That means, nationwide, you have at least 45 million adult survivors. It can influence mental health and physical well-being,” Brewer said.

At Darkness to Light, she has the challenging job of engaging others on a topic that makes many people uncomfortable. However, the prevalence of the problem demands that these difficult conversations take place.

“One of the most important aspects of my career so far has been finding vulnerable populations and empowering them to speak for themselves,” she said.