RUTGERS – A $2 million federal grant will help Rutgers expand university-wide support for victims of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking by funding services, training and education at each of its locations in Newark, Camden and New Brunswick.

The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant is the result of a collaborative effort by Rutgers student affairs leaders, researchers, top administrators and students across the university. With matching funds from throughout the university, more than $2.5 million will be available to increase resources and programs.

“The project will allow Rutgers to provide a consistent level of services across the university that are based on best practices, while also ensuring that efforts are tailored to meet the unique needs of each of its diverse campuses,” said Sarah McMahon, associate director of the Rutgers School of Social Work’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children and principal investigator on the grant with Judith Ryan, co-investigator and an institutional compliance officer for Title IX.

Rutgers will bolster services, programs and policies based on information gathered from students in campus climate surveys. The grant, distributed through the state Attorney General’s office, will help fund various efforts, including:

  • Peer education programs
  • Bystander training
  • Student and faculty training and workshops
  • Educational campaigns to make students aware of resources and reporting options
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of services and programs.

“We are delighted to be a part of this initiative for various reasons — first, because it provides a way for us to address what we learned in our campus climate survey,” said Corlisse Thomas, vice chancellor for Student Affairs at Rutgers-Newark.

The university will hire two staff members dedicated to victim advocacy and support and campuswide education. Key priorities will include creating Unity Theater presentations about sexual violence and resources and creating a new version of the We Speak campaign for students to share experiences and provide sexual violence awareness efforts and training for bystander intervention.

“Many times when sexual assault happens, there are other students near who could speak up but for various reasons don’t,” Thomas said. “We are going to address that issue.”

 

The grant will allow Rutgers University-Camden to add a full-time director of victim assistance to provide direct clinical services to students who experience sexual violence, dating violence and stalking and provide resources and advocacy and survivor support groups. A program coordinator also will be added to develop and manage educational efforts and advocacy around sexual misconduct.

“We are excited about the ability to weave collaborative academic research with programming in a way that will enhance our community’s commitment to civility,” said Allison Wisniewski, associate dean of students and Title IX coordinator at Rutgers-Camden. “A director will help push us in a better direction to serve our students.”

At Rutgers University-New Brunswick, the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) will expand its existing prevention programming and outreach efforts.

“We are excited to add an additional staff member to focus on expanding our peer education initiatives and to increase our outreach efforts to our nonresidential and graduate students,” said Laura Luciano, assistant director of VPVA. 

The grant also will enable collaboration across the university through an advisory board including vice chancellors, the School of Social Work dean, public safety and athletics representatives, the director of Counseling, ADAP and Psychiatric Services, and senior-level administrators.

“One universitywide aim will be to develop consistent messaging about creating campuses built on healthy and respectful relationships,” McMahon said.

The specifics will be based on extensive discussion with the advisory board and others involved in the project, including students.

Violence against women on college campuses is a major social problem, with research indicating that approximately 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college. Victimization is associated with a number of negative effects, including the detrimental impact on students’ psychological functioning, potential substance abuse, physical health consequences and academic performance.

Rutgers has a long history of responding to and preventing campus sexual violence and is committed to changing the culture of our campuses so that all members of the community understand and contribute to the message that sexual and other interpersonal violence will not be tolerated, McMahon said.

Rutgers-New Brunswick established the Office on Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance in 1991. In the spring of 2014, Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children was asked by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to pilot the Office on Violence Against Women’s campus climate survey tool at Rutgers-New Brunswick, followed soon after by Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark. This provided an opportunity for Rutgers to emerge as a leader in developing a tool to assess the incidence of sexual violence on its campuses, as well as in translating survey results into action plans.

Created by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, the Crime Victims Fund is a special mandatory spending account dedicated solely to helping victims of all types of crimes. The fund comes from federal criminal fines and penalties.

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