A newsmaker you should know: Advocate fighting for victims' rights moved by personal experiences

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May proved to be a month of honor and recognition for John Chapin of Aliquippa who received a trifecta of state and local awards for his work on victims' rights.

Mr. Chapin received the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus Certificate for his work on behalf of victims of crime, the Outstanding Citizenship Award in recognition of his service to Beaver County law enforcement, and the Governor's Victim Service Pathfinder Organizational Capacity Building Award, which is awarded as part of the Western Regional Training Initiative subcommittee.

Mr. Chapin became involved with victims' rights in 1998, the same year he joined the faculty at Penn State Beaver as a communications professor. He began volunteering at Crisis Center North, a domestic violence center in McCandless. While there, he was introduced to the training initiative subcommittee, a network of experts from participating programs across the southwest region that shares trainers and training materials.

His work with that group over five years led to his involvement with more crisis centers in the area including the Women's Center of Beaver County, for which he has served on the board for the last three years.

Mr. Chapin's interest in victims' rights stems from his experience growing up in a violent household where he said his father's actions repeatedly landed his mother in the hospital. On more than one occasion, he remembers being called out of middle school to testify against his father in court. It was this first-hand witness of domestic violence that led to his interest in research that focuses on violence-prevention education.

"It started off with one center and a research project and some volunteering and just kept building up," Mr. Chapin said. "Every year a new project comes across my desk. I have a hard time saying no. Things just keep getting bigger."

One of Mr. Chapin's many research projects aims to identify school-aged children who could potentially become victims or perpetrators of abuse. The data he collects is shared with local crisis centers such as the crisis center and the schools.

His most recent project involves cyber-stalking and Facebook with results due by the end of June.

"We just keep kind of working on building blocks," he said. "It keeps getting bigger and keeps getting a little more interesting. Each year we add a different piece to the puzzle."

Mr. Chapin said he often employs the help of his communications students to shoot video, design websites or assist in his research projects.

Last year, his students collaborated with the Women's Center of Beaver County to conduct a study on self-esteem and self-verification theory.

"It took their research experience out of the classroom and into the environment," he said.

"That was great for the students. They were learning research but at the same time they were out there applying it."

Mr. Chapin said he encourages students to work in their communities and, in particular, women's centers since he is passionate about their cause. "It goes back to being the kid growing up in that house. My mom's passed so I can't help her, but I can lend a hand and do whatever I can to get resources to women that are in a situation like the one my mom was in," Mr. Chapin said.

"It's important to me."


Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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