For more than two months, students have openly resisted the
University’s proposed changes to sexual assault services, but
during those months, a group of students working inside the Sexual
Assault Prevention and Awareness Center have agreed with the
University’s plan.

While opponents see these changes as a fragmentation of services
that will only harm survivors, some students who work at SAPAC
— speaking on their own behalf and not for all the
center’s volunteers — said the changes will improve
upon the current program.

“We’re all fighting the same fight to provide good
services to survivors of sexual violence,” said LSA junior
Sasha Achen, who coordinates peer education for SAPAC and supports
the changes.

In early February, the administration announced changes to SAPAC
set to take effect this summer. Under the plan, SAPAC’s two
counselors, one part-time and one full-time, would relocate to
Counseling and Psychological Services and work full-time. In
addition, SAFE House, the county provider for sexual assault and
domestic violence services, would administer SAPAC’s Crisis
line.

“This is what we believe, and we feel very strongly about
it,” Stephanie Vitale said, an alum and peer education
coordinator.

The staffers said the proposed changes are a coordinated
community response, in which survivors seek services at either SAFE
House, SAPAC or CAPS and are immediately networked in a seamless
system. In the plan, SAFE House handles crisis situations, SAPAC
provides follow-up and advocacy and CAPS offers ongoing
counseling.

SAPAC Director Kelly Cichy, who has worked for years in this
field, said she has seen this model at numerous other schools,
including the universities of Minnesota and Arizona.

The changes are not a result of budget cuts, administrators say.
Instead, they claim the plan intends to increase education and
advocacy work at the center. In the past, the small office has had
difficulties providing counseling, education and advocacy. It has
waitlisted students in need of counseling and occasionally referred
them to an outside provider.

Because SAPAC must provide both counseling and advocacy but
lacks the personnel to separate both functions all the time,
“often the counseling has to stop” in order for a
survivor to receive advocacy, such as help with the legal process,
Vitale said.

The proposed changes will allow a SAPAC staffer, who now does
counseling and advocacy, to focus on her advocacy work, said
Nursing sophomore Jessica Carver, who coordinates networking,
publicity and activism for SAPAC.

“The roles of counselor and advocate are somewhat
different obviously, and so to have those roles separated really
allows the person who’s doing the counseling to focus on that
portion,” Achen said.

But it is “misinformation” that counseling and
advocacy were always combined, said LSA senior Kathryn Turnock, a
Crisis line volunteer at SAPAC and member of Our Voices Count, an
student group formed to oppose the SAPAC changes.

“Neither Sasha nor Stephanie have anything to do with
survivor services and have no grounds on which to speak about this
knowledgably. The counseling does not have to stop when advocacy
starts,” said Mia White, LSA senior and SAPAC volunteer.

Opponents have said the system only seems coordinated but in
reality will force survivors to recount their traumatic experience
to numerous offices, split their counseling and advocacy needs and
seek counseling in the often crowded Michigan Union, where CAPS is
located.

Some of these concerns are legitimate, staffers said. Because
every survivor’s experience differs, some may not feel
comfortable seeking help at the Union. But they noted that
SAPAC’s office is still open, “and it always will be,
regardless of where counseling is done,” Achen said.

LSA sophomore Johnny Atorino added that CAPS’s location
could provide solace to some male survivors who “may feel
isolated at SAPAC or might not feel that SAPAC is for them because
SAPAC, for some reason, has had this reputation of being
‘only for women,’ ” he said.

Students who support the changes said the movement of the Crisis
line to SAFE House will benefit crisis intervention services. The
county provider will provide immediate, 24-hour assistance in 150
languages, a significant augmentation of SAPAC’s current
service.

Survivors who currently seek help from the Crisis-line must wait
a few moments until a volunteer is reached. This wait time is
critical and can affect whether a caller receives help.
Occasionally, Achen said, calls are dropped because a volunteer
cannot be reached.

“If they have to wait even 30 seconds even, they might not
want to speak,” Atorino said. “It’s a matters of
seconds. … Having to hang up the phone because nobody is
there to listen to you says a lot.”

Staffers stressed that the problem lies with the system and not
the volunteers, whom the students praised for their amazing
work.

But Turnock said if SAPAC’s Crisis line is maintained,
survivors will have the choice between the two agencies.

She added that no system is perfect, and she knows there is a
possibility SAFE House also will put callers on hold during a
crisis.

The changes will help SAPAC to focus on education and advocacy,
both of which have made great strides in recent years, Achen said.
In the 2002 winter term, peer education reached 100 students. By
the 2003 fall term it reached 500, and by this term it has reached
2,000.

SAPAC now has a men’s activism program, coordinated by
Atorino. “It’s specifically geared towards men, to let
them know what their role is in preventing sexual assault.”
The purpose is not to blame men as perpetrators, but to show them
what they can do to curb sexual assault, he added. The program will
assure men that “there is a male space” in sexual
assault issues, he said.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.