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Fall 2019

“Everything for me is about service.”

Jolene Loetscher spearheaded a campaign to to end child sexual abuse in South Dakota. By Clare Milliken

Image: Emily Spartz Weerheim

Jolene Loetscher decided to run for mayor of Sioux Falls, S.D., while feeding her newborn daughter at 3 a.m. “I just had this epiphany as I’m holding this little nugget: If I don’t run, my daughter will learn that it’s OK to give into your fears and let doubt take over.”

Loetscher ’01 and her husband, Nate Burdine, had talked about her running for mayor for months.

At the time, the couple was creating a sports marketing arm of the agency they run together, Mud Mile Communications. That work, paired with first-time parenthood, made a campaign a daunting task.

She lost in a runoff, but the experience proved she could overcome her fears — again.

Born and raised in Nebraska, Loetscher was sexually abused by a family friend as a teen, and she decided years later that she could no longer ignore her pain. In 2011, as a former local news reporter in Sioux Falls, Loetscher knew that publicly sharing her story might change public perception of her. Her family members might feel like they failed to protect her. Some people might even see her as a victim first and foremost. But here, as with the campaign, she refused to be guided by fear.

“I had been given a gift to be able to use my voice to tell stories, and so much of that was shaped by my Medill experience and my subsequent newsroom experience,” Loetscher says. “I witnessed the power of vulnerability and the cascade of change it creates. I felt a calling to put purpose to my pain.” 

A state legislator reached out to Loetscher after seeing her TEDx Talk describing her abuse and its impact. The two worked together to revoke the statute of limitations on criminal rape in South Dakota. In 2014 the state passed Jolene’s Law, but there was an attempt to kill it by a legislative committee that objected to its $21,000 cost when the law came up for renewal in 2015.

Jolene’s Law was saved by an executive order signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard ’78 JD. The resultant Jolene’s Law Task Force, led by the University of South Dakota’s Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment, outlined six major goals and 48 supporting objectives that address a comprehensive approach toward ending child sexual abuse in South Dakota.

Loetscher was named a 2019 Presidential Leadership Scholar in recognition of her service through storytelling.

“Everything for me is about service,” Loetscher says. “When I went into journalism, I wanted to serve the community that I reported on and lived in. With Jolene’s Law, I’m trying to make the world safer for kids and families and for my daughter.”

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