Opinion: Loss of UC Rape Survivor Program Troubling

August 31st, 2015  |  Published in News

Kristin Smith Shrimplin is the executive director for Women Helping Women, a community-based agency whose mission is to empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking by providing advocacy, support and options for safety.

One merely has to glance at the front page of a newspaper or catch the top of a news broadcast to understand the critical need for all educational institutions to have effective, comprehensive, campus-based responses to gender-based violence.

My colleagues and I at Women Helping Women are deeply concerned that the University of Cincinnati currently does not have a functional campus-based peer survivor advocacy program in place. RECLAIM, the program that has served UC sexual assault survivors for more than a decade and has received national acclaim from the White House for its efficacy, is unable to provide services due to the fact that the program’s required and extensive 40-hour training was halted, leaving UC students without a clear path to sexual assault survivor services.

WHW supports RECLAIM as an important part of the University of Cincinnati’s options for survivor advocacy. We also support the UC administrators who have pledged to promptly meet with peer advocates to reschedule training and ensure RECLAIM student advocates are fully prepared to effectively support student survivors of sexual assault.

It is important that as students begin their academic year ‒ statistically the time of year that college students are at highest risk for sexual assault ‒ a comprehensive service offering is readily available to assist and support survivors. In fact, it’s an integral element of students’ rights to safety and to receiving an education.

While WHW serves survivors of sexual assault in Hamilton and Butler counties, we best serve college student survivors by working in close cooperation and collaboration with each of the campus-based peer survivor advocacy programs in our region. College student survivors have unique and critical needs, such as navigating campus-specific options and pursuing a pathway to healing, that can be expertly met by trained, on-campus peer advocates. WHW has collaborated with RECLAIM for more than a decade as RECLAIM has provided essential advocacy services for student survivors.

Unfortunately, gender-based violence is a public health epidemic that disproportionately impacts young women who are of college age. According to a report led by Bonnie Fisher, it’s estimated that:

•20-25 percent of women in higher educational institutions experience sexual assault, including rape, over the course of their college careers.

•For every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year.

These statistics are staggering. Sexual assault is far too common, complex and consequential for any one entity to address. It is an epidemic that requires a comprehensive and immediate response.

It is critical that students at UC have a direct and clear path to immediate services for sexual assault survivors. UC reports that it had 23,716 women students enrolled in the 2014-15 academic year. If the statistics above hold true, and assuming level enrollment, there could be more than 4,700 UC student survivors of sexual assaults, of which 830 of those will be rape survivors, in this year alone. There is no time to waste in getting the RECLAIM program fully operational now.

WHW believes in our caring community of Greater Cincinnati and our power to collectively address and end gender-based violence.