Merced College will get a program for rape prevention

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comDecember 11, 2012 

— Valley Crisis Center officials say they hope to model sexual violence prevention services at Merced College after a successful program at UC Merced.

The center has hired Vanessa Hofmann, who will provide rape prevention education at Merced College for about 30 hours a week beginning in the spring semester, said Genevieve Bardini-Davis, program director of Valley Crisis Center.

Hofmann will work with UC Merced's Violence Prevention Program, which has been recognized by Congress for its success. The goal is to develop a program specifically for Merced College, Bardini-Davis said.

"There are different dynamics at a community college," she added.

The California Department of Public Health's Safe and Active Communities branch confirmed Tuesday that Valley Crisis Center is receiving a rape education prevention grant, which will include education activities at Merced College. It is one of 63 grantees in California, said Matt Conens, spokesman for the Department of Public Health.

The grant, for about $50,000, will help fund the position at Merced College, Bardini-Davis said. The peer-led program will train students about rape prevention efforts and how to educate other students about the issue, she said.

"We demonstrated our capacity to be able to do this work on college campuses," Bardini-Davis said of the UC Merced effort.

"This is extremely important for Merced College, a campus that has struggled with budget cuts and not being able to offer certain types of services to their students," she said.

"The students from our community deserve the best. I'm really excited. This is going to have a great impact on our community for years to come."

Kari Mansager, director of the Violence Prevention Program at UC Merced, said her program used to do a little bit of outreach at Merced College. She was one of those who advocated for the Merced College position.

"They've been very receptive of our educational message and preventing these crimes, but obviously we are located at UC Merced and that's our priority," she said.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to have a staff person at Merced College."

In 2011, the program at UC Merced reached out to about 5,000 people on its campus and some 50 at Merced College, Mansager said. The position for UC Merced's campus advocate used to be partially paid with the money that now goes to fund the position at Merced College, she said.

The UC Merced program now has a federal grant that goes through 2015 to cover its costs, she added.

Anne Newins, vice president of student personnel at Merced College, said officials are glad to be able to bring the service to the campus. "We are just pleased to have the assistance and services for something that otherwise we wouldn't be able to do," she said.

Because Merced College isn't a residential campus, Newins said, it's likely most of the incidents are happening where students live.

"We need a different way of getting the message to them," she said.

The program will involve students as advocates, Newins said, as students sometimes are more open to speak with their fellows about issues they might be experiencing.

"I hope one of the outcomes would be that students would be more comfortable to report problems or events to law enforcement," she said.

Hofmann said she is looking forward to providing services at the college.

"I think it's fantastic," she said. "It's definitely something that the community is ready for. Merced College has been supportive of the cause."

Bardini-Davis said the first year will be more of a learning curve because they are still trying to figure out the needs of Merced College .

"It will take a little while to get things together before we go with a full-scale program like the one UC Merced has," she said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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