OXFORD, Miss. – Armed with a $300,000 grant, the University of Mississippi is working to address a national problem of sexual assault on college campuses.
The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women has awarded a three-year grant to establish the new UM Violence Prevention Office. The funds will be used to implement education programs, develop victim services programs, create more effective campus policies and support improved coordination among administrators and law enforcement. The aim is to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
“This is a cause for celebration,” said Mary Carruth, director of UM’s Sarah Isom Center for Women. “This form of activism, unfortunately, has taken us several years, but we’ve worked hard to build a coalition. We are now on the road to better awareness and improvements.”
The need is based in part on statistics that indicate one in six college women nationwide fall victim to rape or attempted rape, more than 10 percent of women are forced to have sex in a dating situation and four out of five sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim.
“All of these statistics would lead you to believe that there are a great number of rapes being reported or charges brought against the assailants,” said Leigh Ann Bynum, a UM doctoral student in pharmacy administration. “But in reality, only about 5 percent of rape and sexual assault cases are even reported to police. That’s a marked difference.”
In collaboration with Family Crisis Services of Northwest Mississippi and the Oxford Police Department, the university’s Violence Prevention Office will offer resource referral, training, information, coordination, prevention programming and advocacy for students, faculty, staff and parents. A feature of the new program includes coordinated efforts between the University Judicial Council, University Counseling Center, Office of Health Promotion, Legal Studies Department, Family Crisis Services, University Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies.
“The program is genuinely structured for the University of Mississippi environment and culture,” said Ellen Schafer, grant director and associate director of UM’s Health Promotion. “We want to help the university prevent violence, protect victims and hold offenders accountable, as well as change social norms and myths regarding safety and violence against women for the entire University of Mississippi community.”
The issue is prevention, not reaction to violence, said Linda Keena, UM criminal justice professor and grant co-director. A summit on violence prevention is tentatively scheduled for the spring to introduce the Green Dot campaign, which aims to encourage people to stand up against violence rather than merely stand by.
“The Green Dot strategy is an exciting new way to help reduce violence by educating bystanders about what they can do to keep violence from occurring,” Keena said. “The underlying philosophy is to inspire people to take action in situations where they see that someone may be harmed.”
To learn more, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/sarah?isom?center/violence?prevention.html.