Survivors of sexual assault at Ohio University will soon have a professional advocate as well as additional sexual assault education and support services at their disposal thanks to a three-year, $300,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant recently issued to the university.
The grant will fund the salaries of a new full-time sexual assault advocate and graduate assistant. The advocate will be ready to serve the special needs of survivors by fall quarter 2010 and will work under the supervision of Susanne Dietzel, director of the Ohio University Women's Center.
Dietzel said the advocate, who will probably have a background in social work or counseling, will be responsible for collaborating with many different groups on campus and in the community to best serve survivors. The advocate will also review the university's judicial processes and the policies and practices of area law enforcement as they relate to survivor assistance.
"The advocate will provide survivors of sexual assault with valuable information and professional support through the whole recovery process," Dietzel said. "This is a prestigious grant that was made possible by the 1993 Violence against Women Act and is really hard to get."
Michelle Pride, a psychologist in Ohio University's Counseling and Psychological Services, said she is excited about the grant because it will allow the university to both complement and enhance the services it already offers survivors.
"Although education and treatment are important, they do not address issues that survivors face in navigating the judicial and legal systems," Pride said. "An advocate can do things a therapist can't, such as being present with survivors at the police station, emergency room, and in court."
Pride said it can be frightening for survivors to file a police report, have a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) evaluation or sit through a trial or judicial hearing.
"These situations can feel like violations and can be re-traumatizing," Pride said. "Having someone present who can talk to the survivor about the procedures and help them anticipate and process these experiences helps to create a more survivor friendly environment. It can potentially facilitate the reporting process and make access to other services easier for survivors."
The new grant will also fund increased sexual assault education for all first-year students and off-campus sexual assault professional development opportunities for eight Ohio University staff members each year.
Amanda Childress, assistant director for the campus involvement center, said the education portion of the sexual assault training for first-year students will likely be offered online, similar to the university's AlcoholEdu format.
"We applied for the grant back in February, so we were really excited when we found out we received it," Childress said. "It was important to get it because there are no advocacy groups dedicated to survivors of sexual assault in the Athens area. The full-time advocate will help the university develop a victim-centered approach."
Vice Provost for Diversity, Access and Equity Brian Bridges said the grant aligns well with the university's desire to provide education around issues of diversity.
"The peer education program designed to reduce violence against women is the type of preventive action we need to be engaged in on campus and in the local community," Bridges said.
Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi said the grant provides a fantastic growth opportunity for the Women's Center and is a great step forward for the university.
"Sexual assaults on college campuses have become a growing problem," Lombardi said. "Even stalking has increased, so there is a clear need for increased survivor services."