Originally published in Rutgers Today
Christie Howley listens every day as students share their experiences with relationship violence, but for the director of the Rutgers University-Newark Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) office three students’ stories affirm the need for the support and programs the office provides.
While their experiences with sexual violence, assault and harassment differed, “all were terrified and unsure of where to go for support,” Howley said. But each told her that the awareness campaign by the VPVA office “allowed them to see a safe space on campus, and seeing staff at campus events helped them feel comfortable with friendly faces, which ultimately led them to reach out for help.”
The state grant that helped establish the VPVA office at Rutgers-Newark is renewed for a third and fourth year at $2.5 million annually. For the past two years, funding by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office through the federal Victims of Crime Act has helped Rutgers provide and expand sexual violence education, training and victim support services across the university.
The funds helped establish VPVA offices at Rutgers-Newark, Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) and expand services through the 28-year-old Rutgers-New Brunswick VPVA office. With matching university funds, investment in expanded services and support at Rutgers over the four years will total nearly $11.4 million.
“The renewed grants will allow us to continue to ensure Rutgers community members receive the services and support they need, strengthen our universitywide messages and responses to sexual and relationship violence, reach more students and engage faculty and staff in these critical efforts,” said Professor Sarah McMahon, special adviser on campus climate and director of the Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) at the Rutgers School of Social Work.
In the first two years, campaigns launched to inform students, faculty and staff about all of the programs and services to address and eliminate relationship violence, and new education and training programs were developed on campuses in Camden, New Brunswick, Newark and RBHS. Incoming students received online training about sexual and dating violence, and services were provided to hundreds of clients.
As one student told Laura Luciano, associate director of the VPVA office at Rutgers-Camden: “VPVA services helped me overcome some of the anxiety I've had from traumatic experiences and focus on healing, and turn what made me feel insecure about my experiences into strengths. Counseling helps me to cope and I know I have a safe resource to utilize when needed.”
The grant renewal for the next two years will fund targeted outreach efforts to additional, specific student populations, including LGBTQA, graduate and international students.
In addition, graduate assistants will be hired on each campus to develop a program to reach out to victims of other types of violent crime on campus. The grant also will provide for increased training for faculty and staff on campus violence and the resources available to students.
“We have seen a demonstrated need to not only engage faculty and staff around the issue of campus violence but to provide training on the needs of and resources available to students who have been victimized,” McMahon said. A trainer will be hired to develop and facilitate ongoing training, consultation and assistance across the university for faculty and staff related to their role in addressing and responding to sexual violence, dating violence, stalking and related issues.
The School of Social Work and VAWC also will develop statewide workshops on addressing sexual and dating violence in high schools and supporting diverse student populations when addressing campus sexual violence with additional attorney general funding. The need for technical assistance on these issues at campuses across the state arose during a statewide conference this past year hosted by the school and VAWC that gathered college and high school administrators and service providers to share evidence-informed approaches to campus sexual violence response and education.
Overall, the renewed grants will continue Rutgers’ efforts as a long-established leader in research on sexual violence and providing support for members of the university community. In 2014, the White House selected Rutgers faculty to pilot a campus climate survey of Rutgers-New Brunswick students on sexual violence to use as a national model. Since then, survey work continues for student populations across the university.
The first VPVA office opened in New Brunswick in 1991, and Rutgers led the way with groundbreaking programs to raise awareness about sexual violence on campus, including SCREAM Theater and bystander training at new student orientations.
“The grant has allowed our office to create new programs in the area of peer support and education, more direct outreach to traditionally marginalized populations, and has enhanced how we engage men as allies in preventing violence,” said Loren Linscott, director of the Rutgers-New Brunswick VPVA office.
Support is provided throughout Rutgers every day. “The grant provided a much-needed avenue for RBHS students, faculty and staff to talk about harassment and violence. Through bystander training and awareness programming, members of the RBHS community showed their passion for creating a safer campus,” said Kerry Camerer, a clinical counselor with the Violence Prevention Victim Assistance office at RBHS, the university's academic health center. “With continued funding, we will take another step toward empowering everyone at RBHS to challenge violence and support survivors.”