Merced collaboration on preventing campus sexual assault is an example for others

08/28/2014 7:25 PM

08/28/2014 7:26 PM

A collaboration between the Valley Crisis Center and UC Merced Violence Prevention Program is being held up as an example of the right way to handle sexual assault in a university town.

Leaders from the advocacy groups last week developed a webinar to help other college towns better deal with sexual assault at campuses. They were asked to do so by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, an organization that advocates for rape crisis centers.

“It’s exciting that we’re being held up as an example,” said Kari Mansager, director of UC Merced’s program. “I think we’ve been successful, and we talked about this a lot in the webinar, because of our open and honest education.”

The two groups also lean on each other’s resources rather than have duplicate services. Mansager said that is not the case at all college campuses, because some colleges are reluctant to look off campus for assistance.

Advocating on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, the two groups say they’ve had a successful relationship in Merced that other schools could learn from in the wake of a White House task force promise in May for greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education.

According to numbers from the White House, 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college.

The U.S. Department of Education took the unprecedented step in May of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities facing Title IX investigations over their handling of sexual abuse complaints. UC Merced was not on the list.

One recommendation the White House task force had for colleges was to strengthen relationships with community advocates. Other recommendations include educating bystanders who could potentially diffuse a dangerous situation.

UC Merced’s Violence Prevention Program acquired a grant from the Coalition Against Sexual Assault when it first started in 2009, Mansager said, which it renewed in 2012 for about $300,000 over three years. Along with the grant, the advocacy groups agreed to make the webinar for other schools across the country.

Representatives from 38 schools across the country took part in the webinar when it was recorded live, according to Meghan Kehoe, director of Valley Crisis Center.

Not all of the methods will work for every community, she said, but schools should be able to pick and choose what could be successful for them.

“We seem to be the exception and not the norm,” she said. “We’re just trying to help people to see how they can build those bridges or, if one had been burned, how to bring them back working together.”

Every student who enrolls at UC Merced is required to attend a presentation on sexual assault, including where to get help. Kehoe said it is key that students are educated on where to find resources and who to talk to.

The webinar also comes with a slideshow presentation and a survey.

The Coalition Against Sexual Assault provided some training earlier this year for UC Merced’s program and the Valley Crisis Center, said Sari Lipsett, a training and technical assistance coordinator for the coalition.

The strong collaboration between the Merced campus and the community is a model that is critical in addressing sexual violence on colleges and universities, Lipsett said.

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