SAPAC changes complete

BY AYMAR JEAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 22, 2004

Following months of outcry from students and sexual assault
survivors, the University has made significant changes to sexual
assault services this summer. But, even as the offices settle into
the school-year rhythm, some students are still not entirely
pleased with the changes made.

The changes to two University agencies, the Sexual Assault
Prevention and Awareness Center and Counseling and Psychological
Services, have divided students and administrators ever since they
were proposed in January. While all parties were working to improve
and streamline services, they were bitterly at odds over how
improvements should be accomplished.

In July, the University officially reorganized SAPAC and CAPS.
Two counselors from SAPAC joined five sexual assault specialists at
CAPS to conduct long-term sexual assault counseling in the office
located in the Michigan Union.

Now relieved of its counseling function, SAPAC, located on North
University Avenue, will focus on education, advocacy and crisis
intervention. It currently has three student volunteer programs,
including a men’s activism program that promotes sexual
assault awareness. It also has a new staff position — the
direct services coordinator — who handles walk-ins and
advocates on behalf of survivors in issues like housing.

Over the summer, the University also changed its intended plans
and kept SAPAC’s 24-hour Crisis Line on campus. Originally,
administrators planned to move the emergency phone service to SAFE
House, the county provider of sexual assault services. But those
plans changed after organized protests from students.

But those who opposed the changes did not have all their demands
met. Counseling at SAPAC has already been moved to CAPS — a
major point of contention with student activists. And, although the
Crisis Line will remain on campus, it will not involve student
volunteers.

Instead, a social work professional will respond to emergency
calls. Opponents say that employing only one professional is
inefficient and eliminates the distinctive relationship between a
student volunteer and student survivor.

But SAPAC Director Kelly Cichy said the use of one staffer has
“been going quite well. … The callers have been very
appreciative of reaching her too. It’s cut down on the
response time.”

When a survivor calls the Crisis Line, the line goes to a
cellular phone carried by the professional coordinator. If she is
on the line, survivors get a voicemail explaining the situation and
providing information for alternative services, like SAFE House.
Survivors also have the option of leaving a voicemail with a name
and contact information.

“We have very, very few times when we actually have
overlapping calls,” Cichy said.

Previously, the Crisis Line used a system of pagers, where
student volunteers were notified by an operator when a survivor
called the line. Cichy said the new system is better, because
survivors can reach help immediately. SAPAC has been working with
their wireless provider to ensure consistent phone service.

In addition, because the coordinator is a SAPAC staff member,
she is able to relay the information gathered on-site to the staff
member who does advocacy for survivors. This reduces the numbers of
times a survivor has to tell her story — originally,
opponents to the changes were concerned that survivors would have
to recount their traumatic experiences several times in order to
get help.

But opponents to the changes have continually said the old
system worked well and that this new system is flawed.

“Is that an acceptable response in a time of crisis? To
get a voicemail?” LSA senior Kathryn Turnock said. “To
have one person is unethical in a lot of ways, and impractical.

“You’re taking away the volunteer element, which
almost all crisis lines are based on,” she added.
“It’s a matter of connecting with someone who made a
commitment because they care, because they want to be there to
listen.”

So far, the start-of-the-year workload — the busiest time
of the year for SAPAC — has been manageable, Cichy said.

But the volume of calls might have gone down since the changes
were announced, LSA alum and former student activist Mia White
said, because some survivors may have sought alternative
services.

CAPS has also worked to accommodate its new sexual assault
services, CAPS director Todd Sevig said. The office has conducted
professional development, made handouts and adapted its website to
provide services to sexual assault survivors.

It also addressed the space issue. Opponents originally argued
that there was little room at CAPS to accommodate sexual assault
services. A report issued by the University last year supported
this claim, citing that CAPS was “constrained by lack of
additional space,” according the Mental Health Work Group
report.

Those issues have been resolved, Sevig said. By the second week
of August, CAPS had created two new offices for the counselors.
“We’re in really good shape with space right
now,” he said.

The office has created several private waiting areas for
survivors, should they not want to wait in the public area —
which at certain times could contain up to 10 or 12 people.

In the private spaces, survivors can wait without fear of
running into a perpetrator.

“From a psychological perspective, the issue of space is
very important to students who have been targets, or victims, of
sexual assault,” Sevig said.