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+Online May 2010
In UMaine Today magazine, +Online indicates the availability of additional content

Promoting a Safe Campus

Intervention and prevention are the keys to UMaine’s 10-year initiative

Early in his career as a police officer, Bob Norman thought that catching perpetrators was a deterrent to crimes of sexual violence and abuse.

“I thought globally: ‘I can change the world and have a dramatic impact,'” says Norman, now a sergeant with the University of Maine Department of Public Safety. “It took a long time for me to come to grips with the fact that any change I can make will not be on a large scale. A positive change in one person today may lead to a greater change on others tomorrow.”

Norman’s realization echoes the philosophy of UMaine’s Safe Campus Project, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The project works to promote a safe campus by helping to reduce sexual assault, relationship abuse and stalking by stressing intervention and prevention. It also provides members of the UMaine community advocacy, support, educational resources related to sexual assault or abuse, and offers a variety of options for people affected by assault or abuse.

Carey Nason, advocate and coordinator of Safe Campus Project, is trying to change attitudes toward sexual and domestic violence by encouraging healthy, consensual relationships through educational outreach, advocacy and collaboration with a variety of area agencies, with a variety of audiences.

The root of the problem of domestic violence and sexual and other forms of abuse, she says, stems from attitudes, beliefs and value systems. “If you’re looking at men who abuse or engage in violence against women, it’s a belief system,” Nason says. “They’re thinking it’s OK to bully and harass. It’s got to come from this place where I think it’s OK to do this.”

That’s what must change, she says.

The Safe Campus Project began in January 2001 with a $1 million, six-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, and collaborative relationships and guidance from collaborating agencies. The charge was to develop a program that enhanced victim services, addressed offender accountability, policy and protocols for the campus, and create education and outreach initiatives that focused on domestic violence prevention and well-being.

In 2007, after federal funding ended, the university moved the project into the Women’s Resource Center with continuing institutional funding and recognition.

“I think the University of Maine has been quite remarkable in supporting the Safe Campus Project and making it an integral part of the university,” says Renate Klein, a UMaine adjunct associate professor of human development and family studies and the founding director of Safe Campus Project who now serves on its advisory board. “I also think it’s very good business sense for an institution to have a project like this on the books as a mainstay of the institution.”

Located in the Women’s Resource Center in Fernald Hall, the Safe Campus Project also trains “Responders” on campus – a growing number of employees trained to recognize signs of abuse among co-workers, and make inquiries or referrals to Nason’s office.

Nason sees men being among the project’s strongest allies. “Men have a role in promoting safe, healthy relationships,” she says. They can take a stand against crimes against women. Most men don’t commit crimes against women. Indeed, they can be allies to women.

In a class Nason teaches on interpersonal violence, training and prevention, discussion includes how bystanders and friends can safely intervene when they witness a situation that could lead to an assault or abuse. One of the biggest deterrents to personal intervention, she says, is divided loyalties among friends.

“We have a very strong focus on bystander intervention and being an ally, and how people can get involved in the prevention of abuse and violence,” Nason says.

Nason works with student organizations on campus, reminding audiences that ending sexual abuse and domestic violence is everyone’s responsibility. Off campus, she works with agencies like the Bangor, Maine-based Penquis and its programs, Rape Response Services and the Law Project, and Spruce Run in Bangor and Womancare in Dover, all support services for victims of violence.

“We interact with all kinds of groups and offices,” says Nason. “We try to collaborate as much as possible and support other groups’ initiatives with a focus on prevention and intervention.”

Nason estimates the Safe Campus Project and its community allies reach several thousand people a year through traditional and Web-based social media and other activities. She and Norman are convinced the project has helped change attitudes on and off campus, but quantifying evidence is elusive. The Safe Campus Project receives about 100 counseling appointments or consultation a year, with many of them women who continue to stay in contact with Nason.

“I like to think we’ve had a positive effect on the university as to what’s been happening in terms of numbers,” Nason says, quickly noting that numbers are a hard way to measure success, failure or number of assaults. “There are more resources available to help address issues,” and that could create a more receptive environment for people reporting abuse.