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Student advocacy for assault survivors returns

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A new student group is aiming to hold the University of Cincinnati responsible for what has now been an over yearlong absence of university-supported peer advocacy for sexual assault survivors.  

Students for Survivors was launched Aug. 11 by co-founders Anahita Sharma, a third-year liberal arts student, and Grace Cunningham, a third-year sociology student.

Prompted by the treatment RECLAIM, a peer advocacy program previously affiliated with the UC Women’s Center, received from administration last year, Sharma and Cunningham formed Students for Survivors.

“[It’s] really important for us to honor the work that RECLAIM did and to be vocal about the fact that administration shut down RECLAIM in a really horrifying way,” said Sharma. 

On Aug. 17, 2015, members of UC’s administration met with RECLAIM members to discuss changes to their scheduled training, which at the time had been canceled until further notice. It was there RECLAIM was told they would cease to exist as a rape advocacy group, according to the former group’s members.  

Administration later retracted this decision, voicing their intent to meet with RECLAIM’s members and restructure their training.

The status on peer advocacy resources supported by the university is unclear.

In August, UC’s Title IX office partnered with Women Helping Women (WHW), an agency that offers crisis intervention and support services to survivors of sexual assault, to bring students an on-call confidential advocate to provide support to those who have, are experiencing or have witnessed gender-based violence.

Additionally, WHW will have an on-campus presence starting Oct. 30, in which a full-time campus advocate will be housed in the Steger Student Life Center.

Some students worry that one WHW advocate catering to 44,251 students is stretching resources too thin.

Amy Lind, the department head for women's, gender and sexuality studies, imagines it will be a campus-wide effort.

“I think if there’s one Women Helping Women [advocate] on campus they’re going to be working with students and staff on these issues so there will be a distribution of labor and support,” said Lind.

Though a WHW advocate is a step in the right direction, Sharma doesn’t believe it replaces the need for peer advocacy.

The benefits of peer advocacy are acknowledged nationwide and were even marked as best practice on matters of sexual assault by President Obama in Title IX changes, according to Lind.

The need for advocacy resources with physical presence on campus is immediate, according to Sharma.

“We don’t have any kind of survivor advocacy until Oct. 30, which completely misses the first few weeks of school which is when most sexual assaults occur,” said Sharma. “I can list dozens of people that I know that have been sexually assaulted in the time that RECLAIM has been gone, and they have not had any form of support from UC at all.”

While Lind understands institutional changes take time, such as staff turnover in both the Title IX office and the Women’s Center, she said the university has been slow to find solutions for peer advocacy.

“I wasn’t able to tell my colleagues and students exactly where they can go for peer advocacy and for prevention education on campus. It’s clear that we have the Title IX office, it’s clear that we have representatives in the police department, in counseling services—it’s not clear what’s happening with peer advocacy and I really hope that the university can find a solution to that quickly,” said Lind. “We could’ve had a solution before now.”

While any criticism Students for Survivors has for UC comes out of love for the university, they need to do better for survivors, according to Sharma.

“It just feels like survivors are on their own,” said Sharma.