Utah State University’s Sexual Assault and Anit-Violence (SAAVI) program has been awarded a nearly $250,000 grant from the Office for Victims of Crime, which will bring more resources and staff to serve the university community.
SAAVI Director Jenny Erazo said this new money will allow them to fund a full-time advocate and another therapist for two years. In the past, their student advocates had been volunteers from USU, which means they had a new advocate every semester.
“We see some students for their entire university experience, so having a full-time member that is consistent will be really beneficial,” Erazo said. “Having somebody available Monday through Friday, 9-5 was our next step for us.”
A student advocate differs from a therapist. The primary responsibility of an advocate is to help victims through the process of healing and living their lives after trauma and supporting them in the choices they make. The advocate educates victims on their rights, legal processes, and healthcare options. They guide the college student and help them achieve the goal they came to Utah State University to achieve, which is to earn a degree.
Their therapists are primarily responsible for working through the victim’s trauma, and Erazo said they both plan an integral roll in healing.
Erazo said between 2017 and 2018 SAAVI’s client list grew by 400 percent. She said their awareness campaigns, their partnership with USU, and their move into the Taggart Student Center are all factors in the increase of students coming into their office.
Three years ago the University President created a sexual violence task force, and Erazo said things have become more streamlined and coordinated between the different offices.
“Really in the last few years, we’ve created a place where it’s safe to talk about gender-based violence. It’s been a really collaborative effort to teach about the support that is available to students,” Erazo said.
While there are always “growing pains” while combining forces with other departments, Erazo said her office couldn’t do the work they do if she didn’t work for a university that didn’t buy into what their mission was.
“There are always growing pains, and everybody has different roles. As an advocacy and therapy office our role is different from Title Nine or law enforcement or general council,” Erazo explained. “We’ve been able to have those difficult conversations and sort out what really is going to be the best response we can come up with.”
SAAVI has been on Utah State’s campus since 2003, becoming the first university in the state to have a dedicated position to victim services.
“We have really been the first in the state in what we do, and continue to be,” Erazo said.
The SAAVI office sees victims from all aspects of violence, from bullying, hazing, and domestic violence to sexual harassment clear up to assault and rape. According to the university’s most recent campus survey, Erazo said most people knew the perpetrator. The outreach prevention coordinator with SAAVI has been working on making sure people are aware that it’s usually someone you know because it can be hard to know what do to.
“Whatever crime they experienced, most knew who the perpetrator was, which creates a different dynamic,” she explained. “If I invite someone into my house to watch a movie, and something happens, how do I define that? Because I was the one who brought them into my home, or they were my friend” Erazo continued. “The reaction is usually different than if someone came out of the bushes and you needed to defend yourself.”
Erazo wants to make sure the community in Cache Valley knows they are here to help. “We provide services for primary and secondary survivors,” she said. Primary is someone who experienced the violence, and secondary might be a parent, friend, roommate, or spouse.
“We’re working on increasing staff so we can provide services to anybody who needs them. I just want people to know we’re here to help,” she said.
Erazo has recently submitted a grant to the office of Violence Against Women for $500,000 that would provide two advocates on Utah State’s regional campuses in Price and Blanding and a regional campus coordinator that can help build services.