2014 P.O.W.E.R presenters. Image courtesy of Women in Bio.

Last year, the Pittsburgh chapter of Women In Bio (WIIB-Pittsburgh) teamed up with Thrill Mill’s Thrival Festival to present Pittsburgh’s Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs Rally (P.O.W.E.R), an event that recognizes area women making contributions to the life sciences and healthcare.

On Tuesday, September 20, P.O.W.E.R returns to Thrival to present an event entitled “Empowering Women to Protect Women,” which features five female speakers who employ science and technology to prevent and prosecute sex crimes and human trafficking.

As P.O.W.E.R organizer Rachel Kopper explains, the theme was inspired by a conversation with one of the rally’s speakers, Dr. Ria David, whose company Cybergenetics developed tools able to more accurately identify sex offenders by analyzing biological evidence. After discussing some of her cases, as well as the increased media coverage of campus sexual assaults, they realized they were on to something.

“This is a very sensitive and controversial topic, and we need to address it,” says Kopper, who serves as the senior manager of business operations at Knopp Biosciences. “We need to show that there are people here in Pittsburgh who are trying to do something about it.”

Kopper says research and development in this field is especially important given the abysmally low prosecution rate for offenders. RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, estimates that only six out of every 1,000 sexual assault perpetrators will see prison time.

In addition to David, the speaker lineup includes:

  • Jennifer Elliott, forensic scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific, who has a background in processing hundreds of DNA cases and of educating laboratories on newly-validated technologies.
  • Cara Jones, COO and co-founder of Marinus Analytics, which has developed predictive analysis mechanisms for tracking down human traffickers and their victims.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a University of Pittsburgh researcher leading clinical trials to determine the best tools to uncover domestic abuse and reproductive coercion.
  • Jan Necessary, Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney, who has prosecuted assault cases both before and since technological advancements have provided more reliable evidence interpretation. She’s also the founding member of the Sexual Assault Response Team of Allegheny County.

Organizers will also present a yet unannounced woman with the P.O.W.E.R Award, which recognizes professional excellence in life sciences, as well as the recipient’s work in promoting the careers of fellow Pittsburgh women.

Besides the featured speakers, P.O.W.E.R will also welcome advocacy groups, innovators and politicians at the state and local level.

“We want to make sure that our local diplomats and representatives have an opportunity to understand that we recognize this is an issue and that we’re trying to do something about it right here in our state and in our city,” says Kopper. “We hope that it will be a real diverse room of people who are real advocates for change, for the city of Pittsburgh and for women.”

P.O.W.E.R will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the North Side co-working space Alloy 26. Registration costs $20 online, $25 at the event. Guests can register at the Women in Bio website.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.