USU takes steps to combat sexual violence on campus

Survivors of sexual violence at Utah State University will soon have access to improved resources thanks to a recently awarded federal grant.

The $125,000 grant was received on Jan. 15, 2020 and was awarded by the Utah Office for Victims of Crime. The grant will allow USU to hire a new law enforcement officer and victim assistant who will work together closely to provide the best assistance possible to survivors of sexual crimes. 

“It is critical to have an officer who specializes in a trauma-informed response to victims of all forms of interpersonal violence,” said Earl Morris, executive director for the USU Department of Public Safety. “This grant will improve campus safety by helping us serve victims and put more resources into holding perpetrators accountable.”

According to a USU press release, “The federal STOP (Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors) Formula Grants are awarded to states to develop and strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to violence against women and to support and enhance services for victims.”

The victim assistant and officer will be housed at the USU Police Department and will be focused on responding to gender-based crime. They will also be trained specifically in protective orders and be prepared to go through the entire court process with survivors. 

“We do things really well here at USU,” said Jenny Erazo, director of the SAAVI (Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information) office and writer of the grant, “but we are always thinking of ways we can make our response more effective.”

SAAVI currently provides victim advocacy for any student, faculty or staff member who has experienced any form of interpersonal violence. This includes stalking, bullying, hazing, dating or domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse in unhealthy relationships. SAAVI also provides therapy and counseling for survivors, and they engage in prevention outreach programs. 

“[At SAAVI], we have victim advocates, only one of which is a full-time, grant-funded position,” Erazo said, “but to have someone who specializes in the legal side and is able to really follow that process is a needed piece.”

Erazo has worked with SAAVI since 2011 and is excited by the changes she has seen in just the past nine years. “Utah State has always led the curve,” she said. “Utah State was the first university to have a full-time employee dedicated to gender-based violence.” She said USU leaders knew back in 2003 when they opened this office, that this was important.

In recent years, USU has taken many actions regarding its prevention of and response to sexual violence on campus including joining the global “Start by Believing” campaign, making it possible for students to report incidents anonymously and requiring all new students to complete an online sexual assault prevention program during their first semester. 

According to Erazo, USU is on the leading edge of this issue.“I think the most important thing I would like to share with survivors is that there are resources available,” Erazo said. “We have a great police force. We have the office of equity. We have SAAVI. At the end of the day, our objective is to create a violence-free campus and a safe place for students to learn.” 

The SAAVI office can be located in the Taggert Student Center room 311, and more contact information can be found on their website at www.usu.edu/saavi/.

Erazo said there are people who want to help, so don’t be scared to seek support and help.

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