When Sharon Barker, the Director of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Maine went on vacation this summer, she expected to begin searching through applicants for a new Coordinator position for the Safe Campus Project when she returned. The previous coordinator, Carey Nason, resigned in June. But when Barker came back from her vacation, she found that the search for Safe Campus Coordinator would not go forward.
“The position for coordinator of the Safe Campus Project never got approved” said Barker, who has been working over 30 years on issues regarding domestic and sexual violence. “Somewhere between the Provost’s office and the President’s office, the position was put on hold.”
The Safe Campus Project was founded on a 6-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001 to focus on sexual and domestic violence awareness on campus for the entire community, and it was the only location for visitors to receive confidential, on-campus counseling specifically designated for sexual and domestic issues.
“Despite numerous inquiries I have received no explanation why the position is still vacant,” said Renate Klein, co-chair for Safe Campus Project Advisory committee, in an Aug. 29 memo.
“The position for Safe Campus Coordinator and our entire policy towards sexual and domestic violence is being reviewed to make sure it is up to date with laws and best practices,” said Robert Dana, dean of students. “The position will be filled.”
Previously, victims of sexual and domestic abuse could go to the Safe Campus Project coordinator to receive confidential counseling. If a student wanted to take further action, they would report it to the office of Student Affairs, which would launch a formal investigation.
“Currently, a victim of sexual or domestic assault goes to the office of Student Affairs, where they are paired with an advocate, which guides the victim through the process,” Dana said. “We make sure everyone’s rights are respected, but nobody’s rights are violated.”
The sudden change in policy has left many unhappy, however.
“If you are a victim, instead of going to Safe Campus, you have to go and confront a dean, which can be intimidating,” said Casey Weed, co-chair of the Students Women’s Association.
“Studies show that victims of sexual and domestic abuse are less likely to report situations to bureaucratic institutions,” Barker said. “They don’t want to lose control of the situation.”
A nationwide study completed in 2003 reported that 4 percent of students reported sexual victimization to campus authorities. Dana says that the number of sexual and domestic cases reported has stayed the same since last year, even with the administrative change.
“The Safe Campus Project does a lot of work at freshmen orientation creating awareness and educating incoming students about the resources here on campus,” Barker said. “If the position remains unfilled for too long, we might start to see some long-term effects, such as the number of reported domestic and sexual assaults go down.”
Dana insists that the office of Student Affairs has picked up all of the duties of the Safe Campus Coordinator.
“There is always someone on call at the Office of Student Affairs,” he said.
Students victim to sexual or domestic abuse can contact the Campus Police Station, the on-campus Counseling Center or the office of Student Affairs.