• |
Header Banner

Grant Fuels SNC Efforts to Counter Violence Against Women

It might seem odd, the leader of a group against sexual and domestic abuse wanting to see an increase in reports of such incidents, but there’s a simple explanation: Sexual and domestic abuse goes unreported more than half the time, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Getting more victims to come forward would increase the number of incidents on the record. But that’s a tradeoff Meredith Hansen ’13 (Health Services) would take.

“Our goal is to actually see reports increase over time, as that means we have survivors getting connected to the resources they need in order to begin the healing process,” says Hansen, campus education and prevention project manager at St. Norbert College. “Of course, in time, we want to see the numbers go back down, indicating our prevention efforts are working and we’re reducing the total number of gender-based violence incidents on campus.”

Hansen and St. Norbert have taken big steps toward realizing those objectives by putting to use a three-year grant for $300,000 from the United States Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. The grant, which St. Norbert can apply to renew for another three years at the end of these three, supports college programs and projects designed to prevent or respond to campus incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, date violence and stalking. The grant also helps pay for the help of community leaders such as the De Pere Police, the Sexual Assault Center, and Golden House, a domestic-abuse shelter. In all, a team of 45 is working on VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) programs and projects, Hansen says. That includes students, faculty, staff and community partners, all armed with a 50-page strategic plan.

St. Norbert is one of 189 colleges and universities around the country that now have the grant, including three other institutions in Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Edgewood College and Carroll University, which is almost finished with the grant after six years of funding over two three-year intervals, Hansen says.

Among the most dangerous
With increased danger during the COVID-19 lockdown, sexual and domestic violence in the United States is itself a pandemic – shelters-in-place are ripe for domestic abuse according to service providers. According to Reuters, America is among the most dangerous countries for gender violence, and the problem is getting worse. Compared to 2019, homicides and rape among intimate partners are on the rise, reports Natasha Senjanovic of the Pulitzer Center. So are crisis hotline calls.

Sexual and domestic violence varies greatly among ethnic groups. According to the National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey, about four in ten non-Hispanic Black, American Indian or Alaskan Native women have been a victim in their lifetimes, as have half of multi-racial, non-Hispanic women. Black women are victims at a rate 35 percent higher than white women and 22 percent higher than women of other races. Two in five black women experience violence.

The original Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 1994, was the first to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as federal crimes. Since its passage, VAWA has resulted in billions of dollars in aid to tribal, state and local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations working to help victims and prevent domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. But many organizations that provide services such as legal aid, emergency shelter and mental health therapy are straining to meet demand.

Congress has traditionally eased some of the financial strain by appropriating about $550 million annually for VAWA programs, but expanding protections requires reauthorization.

In recent years, the act has been opposed by lawmakers, lobbyists and others not in favor of recognizing the rights of transgender people or keeping guns from those convicted of abusing someone. Still other opponents maintain VAWA values incarceration over rehabilitation.

The version now being considered by the Senate would provide the most funding ever for VAWA programs: $590 million. That figure includes an increase in resources for victim services. The Senate is expected to vote on VAWA’s reauthorization this year.

Changing a culture
Funded by the VAWA grant, St. Norbert strengthened its campaign against the rising tide of domestic and sexual violence in the United States in January.

Among the things the grant has paid for to date are a full-time, dedicated staff member to oversee VAWA work and the services of contracted community partners, such as shelter workers and police, Hansen says. The results, so far, include a designated safe space in the basement of a building on campus that could also serve as a meeting place for peer advocates.

“This is an example of a partnership with a service-learning class,” Hansen says. “A student redesigned the space with colors, sounds, furniture and features in mind.”

Since the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester, Hansen says, more than 30 students have assisted with the grant, including some through volunteer internships and others working in a service-based learning component to their course curriculum. To date, three courses have used the grant to meet the service-based learning requirement. Students have “contributed significantly” to that, Hansen says.

“The grant’s overarching goal is to change the culture surrounding gender-based violence on campus,” she says. “This takes a commitment from every single person who identifies with St. Norbert College – students, staff, faculty, alumni, board members, community partners.

Changing a culture takes years of dedicated work, attention, resources, time, people, skills and talents, and funding in order to achieve a community free from gender-based and interpersonal violence.”

Published Aug. 31, 2021, in @St. Norbert