Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky Launches Nonprofit to End Violence against Women
Will Work to Solve Rape Kit Backlog & Improve Sexual Assault Handling in U.S.
CHICAGO (March 15, 2013) – Julie Smolyansky, President and CEO of Lifeway Foods (Nasdaq: LWAY), today announced the launch of Test400k, a campaign to resolve the backlog of 400,000 untested rape kits in the U.S. and end violence against women both domestically and globally. The nonprofit organization – formed by Smolyansky and her life partner Jason Burdeen – was inspired by a recent Human Rights Watch report indicating that 400,000 evidence kits collected after alleged sexual assaults in the U.S. dating back to at least 1979 have been sitting in police storage facilities around the country without processing.
Test400k will raise awareness, advocate, engage and support innovation in rapid DNA analysis. It will also mobilize communities to take action to improve the ways in which law enforcement and the criminal justice system handle the processing of evidence collected from sexual assaults in the U.S. Financing will come from grants, corporate sponsorships, crowdfunding and other fundraising efforts.
The announcement comes days after President Obama signed an expanded Violence Against Women Act and a month after Smolyansky’s appointment to the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council, a group that is tasked with providing an entrepreneurial approach to its mission of helping the United Nations solve global problems.
Smolyansky’s background also includes three years as a certified rape crisis counselor and in-home family counselor working with children removed from Chicago homes before joining her father at Lifeway Foods in 1997. She became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she took over the company’s kefir business in 2002 at the age of 27. Under her guidance, company sales have jumped from $12 million to nearly $90 million.
“As CEO of a natural foods company and a former social services counselor, I have been a long-time advocate for healthy and safe communities. When I learned that over 80% of sexual assault evidence in the U.S. is never examined for DNA that can connect the perpetrator to the crime, I was appalled. The garbage in my alley is handled better. It means that victims are denied due process and their attackers are free to cause harm again,” Smolyansky said. “Even worse, the UN estimates that one out of three women worldwide will be raped, beaten or murdered in their lifetime. Test400k aims to be a force for change.”
“Julie and I have two young daughters. Both of us were deeply disturbed at the findings of the Human Rights Watch report on untested rape kits. Whether the cause is lack of will, lack of funds or a breakdown in operational procedures, every unprocessed kit represents an alleged assault on someone’s friend, wife, sister or daughter that was never pursued,” Burdeen said. “Our hope is that Test400k will make a difference for future victims as well as reduce sexual assaults by getting perpetrators off the street.”
Smolyansky discusses the Test400k initiative and the Global Mom Relay, a United Nations Foundation program to raise money for women and children around the world, in a video on her latest Huffington Post blog at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-smolyansky/protecting-children_b_2881153.html Every time a reader shares the post by Facebook, Twitter or email or donates $5, Johnson & Johnson and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will donate $5 to fund one of four programs supported by the Global Mom Relay.
In related activities, Smolyansky participated in a panel discussion, “Can Technology Save Women?” at the March 10 GoodxGlobal event in Austin, TX, a full day dedicated to the local and global power of technology for social good that as part of the SXSW Interactive conference. Elizabeth Gore, Resident Entrepreneur for United Nations Foundation, moderated the panel with other participants including Ingrid Vanderveldt Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Dell Inc, and CEO of the holding company, Ingrid Vanderveldt LLC.
Visit http://www.test400k.org, follow @test400k on Twitter, “like” Test400k on Facebook or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to stay informed and learn more about what you can do to help your community end the backlog and stop violence against women. Follow Julie Smolyansky on Twitter @JulieSmolyansky.
About Lifeway Foods, Inc.
Lifeway Foods, Inc. (Nasdaq: LWAY), recently named one of Fortune Small Business’ Fastest Growing Companies for the fifth consecutive year, is America’s leading supplier of the cultured dairy products known as kefir and organic kefir. Lifeway Kefir is a dairy beverage that contains 10 exclusive live and active probiotic cultures plus ProBoost™. In addition to its line of Kefir products, the company produces a variety of Frozen Kefir and probiotic cheese products. Lifeway also sells frozen kefir, kefir smoothies and kefir parfaits through its Starfruit™ retail stores. For more information, visit www.lifeway.net.