In September 2009, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a year-long initiative to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, and to raise awareness about violence against women and its effects on communities across the country. In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April 2010), Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and eight members of DOJ’s leadership traveled to 11 college campuses around the country in March 2010. The visits to public, private and faith-based institutions and a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) included a series of events aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault in university settings.
The following post appears courtesy of Susan Williams, Associate Director, and Latinisha Felli, Program Specialist, Office on Violence Against Women.
Among college students, sexual violence is experienced at a disproportionately high rate, with an estimated 1 in 4 college women becoming a victim of sexual assault by the time she graduates.
Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division Ignacia Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Laurie O. Robinson, Acting Director of the Office for Victims of Crime Joye Frost, and Director of the Community Oriented Police Services Program Bernard K. Melekianmet with students, faculty, law enforcement and community partners to learn about the various strategies being implemented by campuses to address sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking, and to talk about the department’s commitment to working with institutions of higher education to promote innovative ways of responding to violence against women on campus.
Many of the campuses are recipients of the department’s Office on Violence Against Women’s “Grants to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking on Campus Program.” The program is intended to develop and strengthen victim services in cases involving domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on campuses. Grants are designed to encourage colleges and universities to adopt comprehensive, coordinated responses to violent crimes against women on campuses, creating partnerships among campus entities and with community-based victim services organizations and criminal and civil justice agencies.
The following are two highlights from the campus tour:
East Central University (Ada, Oklahoma)
Acting Director for the Office of Victims of Crime Frost, visited East Central University (ECU) to participate in two events that highlighted their campus coordinated response and its impact on student victims. On the day of our visit, both the Governor of Oklahoma and Mayor of Ada signed proclamations celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act. ECU has developed collaborative relationships with not only campus and community partners, but have enhanced their training and response by partnering with tribal leaders from the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, the Council on Law Enforcement and Education Training Academy (CLEET), and the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic And Sexual Violence.
The impact of ECU’s coordinated community response was evident in the remarks made by two survivors who spoke about how their healing was supported by the campus and community advocates’ collaborative efforts to provide necessary resources and the work of the campus leadership to ensure that their education was not interrupted.
Additionally, ECU understands that law enforcement response is critical to addressing violence against women and has partnered with CLEET to provide their new campus officers with their 15-week academy trainings that include the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault. During our visit, Frost spoke to approximately 60 new cadets, including sheriffs, campus, municipal, and tribal police, about the importance of their work and the challenges they face when responding to these crimes and providing resources to victims with limited services.
University of Michigan
At the University of Michigan, campus administrators, faculty, staff and students are tackling the issue of sexual assault and relationship violence on several fronts through a multi-faceted comprehensive campus-wide response.
Assistant Attorney General Moreno participated in two events highlighting the university’s commitment to preventing and addressing violence against women. The first featured the university’s coordinated community response to sexual and intimate partner violence on campus, with presentations from 12 different on- and off- campus collaborators, including the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Dean of Students, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, the Director of Residence Education of University Housing, and the Director of Department of Public Safety. At the center of this collaboration is the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Awareness Center (SAPAC), a campus-based organization that provides educational and supportive services for the campus community related to sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, stalking and sexual harassment.
Moreno had the opportunity to speak about her first experience working on the issue of sexual assault while employed in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and talked about the critical need for addressing this issue in a comprehensive way within the university setting.
The campus visit culminated with an evening event at the Michigan Student Union at the opening of “REVOLUTION: Making Art for Change,” the 5th annual art exhibit celebrating artwork pertaining to issues of sexual violence, gender, sexism and empowerment. Moreno had an opportunity to tour this powerful and moving event and provide reflective comments to an enthusiastic crowd of approximately 200 students, faculty and community members.