The University of Utah, Utah Domestic Violence Coalition and more than 10 campus and community partners have received a $300,000 grant to develop better coordination of services and comprehensive prevention strategies aimed at reducing violent crimes against women and promoting victim safety.
The grant is from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, which operates a funding program for projects aimed at reducing sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses. The grant is spread over three years.
It will allow collaborators to build a Coordinated Community Response that brings together external resources and services and comprehensive preventative strategies to improve outreach, awareness and prevent violence on the U campus—so the U can “cement a climate of trust,” according to the group’s grant proposal.
Key aspects of the project include:
- Saturating the U campus with information about the 24/7 LINKLine (1-800-897-5465) operated by the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition (UDVC) and services available from other providers
- Providing on-call help with risk assessments using the Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP)
- Additional training for police and support services on LAP, a tool with a proven success rate in averting fatal intimate partner violence
- Assisting with protective orders
- Hiring a part-time victim advocate in the Center for Student Wellness
- Adopting additional preventative strategies
Other elements of the project include surveying incoming students about interpersonal behavior, developing an educational module and hosting public lectures. It will incorporate a victim-centered protocol that allows the victim to direct the course of action, ensures confidentiality and provides trauma-informed responses.
Coordinated Community Response Partners
Campus partners in the Coordinated Community Response include the Department of Public Safety; Housing and Residential Education; the Office of Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Title IX; the Center for Student Wellness; the Office of the Dean of Students; health sciences faculty liaisons, and others. Community partners include Legal Aid of Salt Lake; the Salt Lake City Police Department; South Valley Services; the Rape Recovery Center; and the West Valley City Prosecutor’s Office.
“We are delighted to receive this grant and to have so many great partners join us in creating better services and responses to intimate partner violence,” said Ruth V. Watkins, president of the University of Utah. “We look forward to the great work to come.”
Two professors at the U who are experts in family and campus violence will oversee the project: Sonia Salari, a professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies in the College of Social and Behavioral Science; and Chris Linder, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational, Leadership & Policy in the College of Education. U medical faculty involved in the project are physicians Antoinette Laskey and Kathy Franchek-Roa of the Department of Pediatrics at the U, who both have extensive knowledge of family violence and intimate partner violence.
They will work closely with UDVC Executive Director Jenn Oxborrow. Claire Mosby, UDVC prevention coordinator and an expert in LAP trainer, will be the project coordinator.
“The sustainable, multi-unit combination we are using aims to improve campus safety culture, encourage solutions from students, faculty and staff, reduce silos that exist between our partners and improve confidentiality,” Salari said. “The timing of this grant represents a moment when the wounds of [recent] fatal violence weigh heavy on the campus psyche, leaving us with a universal and overwhelming commitment to primary prevention.”
Fostering a culture of safety
In its grant application, submitted in March 2019, the group noted there have been three separate incidents of intimate partner violence in the past several years that resulted in the deaths of two students and a staff member affiliated with the U. Two other students also were killed, one in a random act of violence and the other in act of dating violence.
The grant notes that 1 in 3 Utah women will experience rape, stalking and/or physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime—a rate higher than the national average.
“This data makes it clear that violence against women is a significant problem in Utah and the majority is perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner,” Salari said. “Just like in the larger society, for every fatal event, there are many other instances of dating violence, intimate partner abuse, sexual assault and stalking which go uncounted.”
The death of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey in October 2018 led to a “new recognition of the importance of dedicated prevention efforts that has encompassed the entire university” and galvanized U leadership to approach intimate partner violence more strategically.
The project will broaden the institutional effort to prioritize and foster a culture of safety on campus by coordinating campus services and adding external partners who can help, such as adding 24/7 access to trained victim advocates.
“Abuse is not the victim’s fault,” Oxborrow said. “The primary fault lies on the perpetrator and, as a society, the secondary fault lies on us when—instead of focusing on and promoting safety—we make excuses for the perpetrator and blame the victim. This grant is an opportunity to strengthen a partnership with the U and find meaningful solutions to prevent and address domestic violence and abuse in Utah.”
UDVC’s LINKLine is a 24/7, anonymous and confidential service staffed by trained advocates who listen, provide resources, referrals and safety planning, and conduct lethality assessments. That is something current campus services may be struggling to provide, the application notes. It also provides “non-judgmental advocates” trained to provide inclusive services with members of underserved communities and in 240 languages.
Survivors’ concerns about confidentiality can often be a major barrier to seeking services and many fear their abuser will detect they sought help, Salari said. Those fears may be exacerbated in a university setting due to the closed setting, procedural complications and the fear of repercussions for victims.