During their time in college, one in five college-aged women is a victim of sexual assault or report experiencing violent or abusive dating behaviors, according to national statistics.
When the Georgia College Women’s Center opened in 2005, founder Jennifer Graham wanted the center to be a resource for victims as well as offer ways to educate students on identifying and preventing sexual assaults and domestic violence.
“Over the last few years, we have been able to strongly increase our educational offerings to campus,” said Graham, a Georgia College alumna and director of the Women’s Center. “Of the fall 2017 incoming freshman classes, about 76 percent of the students participated in our Project BRAVE Training, which teaches students to identity and address power-based interpersonal violence.”
Now the Women’s Center’s services can expand even further with the help of a grant from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of Georgia. The nearly $100,000 funds a new, full-time victim services coordinator for campus.
“Men and women can be victims of sexual assault, domestic or power-based violence,” said Emily Brookshire, victim services coordinator. “My goal in this role is to help victims begin the healing process, connect them with the resources they need and assist them throughout their time at Georgia College and even after they graduate.”
Brookshire’s background serving both at the collegiate level and with the Department of Human Services gave her firsthand experience working with victims.
“I am so happy to be here. I want the campus community to know who I am and how I can help them,” she said. “From my experience, I’ve learned so many options and ways to meet the needs of victims. There is no standard approach as each person and situation is different. I look forward to building on the foundation already set by the work in the Women’s Center and also looking at new practices to implement.”
Brookshire joins three, part-time victim advocates working to build relationships on campus and in the community with partners, coordinating afterhours response, developing policies for responses and meeting students at the hospital when needed. The future goal is to also add volunteers.
The team will soon launch a 24/7 hotline for students, faculty and staff to call and report instances of sexual assault or domestic violence. The hotline will be manned by Brookshire and her team.
“We are trying to be more proactive and provide more resources to our campus community,” said Graham. “Our focus on education has helped to increase awareness, and that led to more people coming forward for help. Our goal is to now meet those needs better with our victim advocacy team.”
While more victims have come forward, Graham said that doesn't equate to more cases on campus. She attributes the higher volume to the education offered on campus. When people know there’s a name for what they’ve experienced and services to help, they’re more likely to come forward she said.
Graham hopes the model used by Georgia College will serve as an example for other colleges and universities as well as the Milledgeville/Baldwin County community. Currently the Ocmulgee Judicial District is one of the only districts in the state without a community-based victims services program. She hopes that soon will change.
“We are part of a group working to establish a Sexual Assault Response Team with local law enforcement, prosecutors, representatives from the hospital and other organizations, as well as helped provide SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) training for nurses at Navicent Baldwin,” said Graham. “Our goal is to create infrastructure on campus and train volunteers in-house, while also helping to create protocol with the city and county, and when they address this need in the community, we will already have a base in place.”
Continuing to educate and provide resources for campus is key for Graham and her team. Organizations and departments can always request a BRAVE training. Also, April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and the Women’s Center will host a variety of guest speakers, events and activities. You can find more information at the Project BRAVE Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/GCProjectBRAVE/.