UMaine’s Safe Campus Project was founded in 2001 to raise awareness on campus about the presence of sexual and domestic violence in a community where many would be surprised to hear of its prevalence. Safe Campus offered specialized counseling services to affected University members for six years before the government grant-funded program was deemed to be so highly valued by the campus community, it was continued as a freestanding organization based out of the Women’s Resource Center.
The last coordinator of the Safe Campus Project resigned in June, and a replacement coordinator has not been instated. The program itself is now being reconfigured as the “Sexual Violence Response, Education and Prevention Program.” Dean of Students Robert Dana claims that this replacement program will more than adequately perform the same functions as the Safe Campus Project and perhaps do so even more thoroughly across the campus community. Now that it will be based out of the Division of Student Affairs, it will thus be more incorporated into programs like Residential Life and Greek organizations, perhaps gaining greater influence.
The foreseeable issue with the effectiveness of the new program has nothing to do with whether the same services are being carried over from the old one, or if they are more widely advertised within certain sectors of the campus community. It is not a question of whether the counselors will be equipped with the same level of specialized training.
The main concern is that the anonymity and confidentiality of the Safe Campus Project, which previously distinguished it from other counseling services available on campus, will no longer be guaranteed. As a more independent program, Safe Campus chose to interpret legal constraints liberally in order to more effectively advocate for the students who retained their services. Incorporated under the Office of Student Affairs, the new Sexual Violence Response, Education and Prevention Program will be obligated to take certain legal action in response to reports of sexual violence, compromising the usually highly valued element of confidentiality provided by services like Safe Campus.
It is an unfortunate likelihood that this new configuration of the old program could result in fewer reports of sexual and domestic violence. Victims of sexual violence are far less likely to report incidents to the proper authorities than they are to seek counseling that offers a confidentiality clause. An administrative organization that necessarily handles reports of sexual assault in a way that avoids legal liability will, at least for that reason, be a less effective tool for outreach and prevention.
Dean Dana has agreed that in light of the apparent increase in sexual violence on college campuses nationwide, sexual assault response services need to remain oriented toward assisting the victims. However, it is worth considering that the new mechanism at UMaine for providing those services may be less effective, simply by virtue of their different relationship to University administration, and this potential change merits a watchful eye from the community.