Federal Grant will Improve Services to USU Survivors of Sexual Violence

Utah State University will hire a victim advocate and an investigator who specializes in certain crimes against women using funding recently obtained through a grant awarded by the Utah Office for Victims of Crime. 

“It is critical to have an officer who specializes in a trauma-informed response to victims of all forms of interpersonal violence,” said Earl Morris, USU Public Safety executive director. “This grant will improve campus safety by helping us serve victims and put more resources into holding perpetrators accountable.” 

Both the victim advocate and investigator will work for USU Public Safety in the police department. The $125,000 grant runs for one year, at which time the university intends to apply for additional funding. 

Jenny Erazo, director of USU’s Sexual Assault & Anti-Violence office, or SAAVI, said research shows that survivors who work with victim advocates are better equipped to go through the process of a police investigation. 

“When a victim of sexual violence works with an advocate, they are more likely to have the support they need both through the investigation and prosecutorial process. It is a difficult and long process for any crime victim,” Erazo said. 

The federal STOP (Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors) Formula Grants are awarded to states to develop and strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to violence against women and to support and enhance services for victims. They can be used for effective, victim-centered law enforcement, prosecution and court strategies to address violent crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence, and the development and enhancement of victim services in cases involving these crimes. The grants are funded through the federal Violence Against Woman Act (VAWA). 

In the past three years, USU has taken many actions in regard to its prevention of and response to sexual violence in the campus community. These changes were initiated in response to an internal inquiry into how the university handled disclosures of crimes committed by former student athlete Torrey Green. Changes include:

  • Created a new Task Force and several working groups to recommend vast changes and implement them quickly.
  • Added policy and procedures to the Student Code about how students can report anonymously or request confidentiality.
  • Conducted the university’s first campus climate survey on sexual misconduct to gauge student attitudes and experiences with sexual misconduct. A second survey was conducted in April 2019.
  • Partnered with the Utah Department of Health to tailor its bystander intervention program, “Upstanding-Stepping Up to Prevent Violence in Utah,” for USU campuses. Over 10,000 students have been trained in this program so far.
  • Began requiring all new students (freshman, transfer and graduate students) to complete an online sexual assault prevention program in their first semester. Those who do not complete are not able to register for the next semester. 
  • Joined the global “Start by Believing” campaign to decrease victim blaming and increase support for those who in the campus community who disclosure sexual misconduct.
  • Overhauled Title IX oversight and created an executive director position in the Office of Equity to oversee the Title IX Coordinator. 
  • Reorganized fraternity and sorority life to improve student safety and increase oversight and accountability.
  • Hired five new staff members in the Office of Equity, two new staff members in the victim advocacy office, and a new coordinator for fraternity and sorority life.