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Grant aids in fight against sex crimes on Middlebury College campus

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College’s ongoing efforts to prevent sexual assault and dating violence on campus received a major assist on Monday in the form of a three-year, $272,258 federal grant to enhance programs for victims while providing training to advocates to counsel students on how to avoid falling prey to assaultive behavior.
The grant in question, confirmed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., comes from the federal Office on Violence Against Women. It is among a series of grants aimed at reducing sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses throughout the nation.
“We are thrilled for our partners, for the institution and for the students as well,” Karen Guttentag, Middlebury College associate dean for judicial affairs and student life, said of the grant award. “I think our student body cares deeply about these issues and is really excited to have resources to empower them to have a lead role to shape their own campus community.”
Partnering with the college on what organizers are calling a “comprehensive, community-based approach to reduce and respond to sexual violence” will be WomenSafe, the Burlington-based organization RU12?/SafeSpace, the Addison County Council Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, the Middlebury Police Department and Porter Hospital. Together, the parties will use the grant to further develop coordinated education, training and prevention programs and incident-response protocols to “fundamentally change campus culture regarding sexual violence,” according to a project description prepared by the college.
The college has, for several years, been offering on-campus training and services designed to prevent assaults and help those who tragically become victims. The college in 2009 established its Sex Assault Oversight Committee.
“We had been spending a great deal of time and commitment for many years trying to do what we could within our existing resources to create all of the right moving pieces, and a policy that was progressive, clear, fair and responsive to the unique facets of sexual assault, while trying to identify the resources that students need who are experiencing sexual violence of any kind and trying to develop internal approaches and draw on best practices for education and prevention efforts,” Guttentag said.
But college officials have wanted to improve and update the program with new information and training techniques.
“We really wanted the resources to not only be able to respond with our in-house knowledge, but to draw on some great national resources, in terms of expertise and creativity,” she added.
Guttentag and her colleagues are particularly keen on enhancing prevention  and education efforts.
“What we’re after is cultural change,” Guttentag said. “Everybody has a role to play in that. We want to support our faculty, staff and our students in understanding these issues and identifying contributing factors in being able to prevent all of the elements that lead up to sexual violence and unhealthy relationships, and provide resources and services that are compassionate, fair and appropriate.”
Specifically, the college has identified five areas in which to improve programs using the grant money:
•  Strengthening existing mandatory programs for first-year undergraduate students, attendees at Middlebury summer programs and residential life staff, and create new education and prevention programs for targeted audiences — including students preparing to study abroad; academic year and summer students on the Middlebury campus; male students; and faculty and staff.
•  Eliminating redundancy and capitalizing on the expertise of community partners to plan and implement a law enforcement/investigation training program focused on sexual violence for Middlebury Police Department officers, Middlebury College Public Safety officers, and external sexual misconduct investigators.
•  Assessing the local shortage of sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) by collaborating with Porter Hospital to identify root causes, develop creative solutions, and provide financial support to recruit and train new SANEs.
•  Enhancing programming that empowers students to change the culture of sexual violence from the ground up by strengthening and growing the college’s new Sexual Assault Advocacy Program, revitalizing and promoting its bystander intervention program, and developing new workshops on healthy relationships, masculinity, femininity and consent.
•  Continuing to assure that any student in any Middlebury school or program who is either a survivor of sexual violence, or accused of sexual violence, can expect a fair, effective, sensitive and impartial process of investigation and adjudication.
Guttentag stressed that sexual assault and domestic violence programming cannot be fashioned in a “one-size-fits-all” format. She added the enhanced services would benefit students of all genders and backgrounds.
“All students have very different needs and respond to these issues in very different ways, so we want to provide as many opportunities for students to get what they need, whatever those needs are,” Guttentag said.
Helping to meet those needs will be WomenSafe, which will assist in training the college’s on-campus advocates. And students will continue to be able to use the nonprofit organization’s hotline, as well as receive its court, hospital and social services advocacy offerings, according to WomenSafe Assistant Director Kerri Duquette-Hoffman.
Also as part of the project, WomenSafe will help produce a video about the services available to victims of assault on and off campus. The organization will also provide specialized training to the college’s sexual misconduct review panel and its community judicial board, according to Duquette-Hoffman. Training, she said, will include an overview of pertinent state laws, how to support victims, and confidentiality in dealing with assault cases.
Elizabeth Burchard, associate dean of  Middlebury College and also its director of public safety, was pleased to hear about the grant award.
“It will be a terrific boost to our programming,” Burchard said. “Anything we can do to improve our protocols, training and services to the students and larger community are of great benefit.”
Middlebury College recorded five cases of “forcible sex” on campus in 2009, a number that declined to four in 2010 and went back to five in 2011, according to Burchard.
Middlebury police Sgt. Mike Christopher added his voice to those appreciative of the grant money.
“It will allow us to review our current training protocols and curriculum to ensure an adequate response to incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault on campus,” Christopher said. “We’re very pleased with Sen. Leahy’s office for all its work in obtaining this grant in cooperation with the college.”
Porter Hospital spokesman Ron Hallman looks forward to a close collaboration with the college in strengthening its programs. Porter is of course instrumental in treating victims in assault cases.
“We’re happy to help in this area to address this very serious issue,” Hallman said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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