Everywomen’s Center awarded funding

By Kelly McCarthy

Collegian Staff

The Everywoman’s Center at the University of Massachusetts has been awarded a state-funded grant of $149,520 over three years to continue and extend its work with teen victims of sexual assault and dating violence.

The grant was awarded by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance and is segmented into annual increments of $49,840. The Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) is an independent state agency which looks to increase outreach and advocacy among adolescents who have experienced sexual or dating abuse.

Recent studies show that on the national, state and local levels, teens experience the highest rates of sexual victimization in comparison to any other age group. The Everywoman’s Center will attempt to utilize the incoming grant money to provide increased support to local middle and high schools.

Nina Brand, a Teen Crisis Intervention Specialist at EWC, will be offering herself as a resource to school staff and, in certain instances, taking direct referrals on cases through guidance offices. In some schools, Brand will be running support groups for teens, as well as speaking to parents and friends of victims, or referring them to counseling offered by the Everywoman’s Center.

The money supplied by the grant will allow for increased advocacy for teens through EWC. Becky Longwood, the Associate Director of the Everywoman’s Center said that many teens who are victimized simply don’t have an adequate outlet for their needs.

“A lot of teens have experienced sexual or domestic violence but aren’t getting the help they deserve,” she said.

Longwood went on to point out that teens do not have the type of freedoms that adults have, even in transportation and that, “A lot of teens are very reluctant to talk to family members about the violence that they have experienced.”

This lack of understanding felt by many victimized teens often leads to dire consequences, Longwood said.

“When a teen has been in an abusive relationship or been sexually assaulted, they are at risk to develop more destructive health issues.” These issues may include eating disorders, depression and anxiety, she explained.

A study conducted by the Hampshire Educational Collaborative in 2009 surveyed 3,439 students in five area schools. Of these students, 9.7 percent reported physical abuse by a dating partner and 8.5 percent reported having sexual contact against their will.

The grant provided by the Mass Office of Victim Assistance will seeks to allow EWC to offer approximately 90 adolescents and their family members free crisis intervention, group counseling, advocacy and support in accessing community resources.

The Everywoman’s Center will continue its Pioneer Valley Youth Clothesline Project, which is a collaborative effort with the YWCA of Western Massachusetts to raise awareness about the impact of violence on teens. Students who have experienced or witnessed sexual or domestic violence paint their stories on a t-shirt, which is displayed for other teens and adults to see.

Longwood spoke of the Clothesline Project’s ability to impress school staff, noting that once an opportunity for teens to share their story is presented, many who have held their trauma close to themselves come forward.

“It’s amazing how many young people will come forward and tell their story. People think that things like this don’t happen in our nice little towns of Hadley or Amherst, or anywhere, but we’ve never gone into a school and not had at least 30 students come forward and make a shirt,” she said.

The Everywoman’s Center offers UMass students a number of volunteer opportunities. Students may complete a 60-hour training program offered by EWC to become rape crisis counselors or violence prevention educators on campus.

Longwood said the Center is inclusive and welcoming to all different identity types, and that people of all shapes and sizes experience victimization.

“Everywoman’s Center is open to people of all gender identities,” she said. “We work with a fair amount of men who are worried about a friend experiencing sexual abuse, or who are themselves experiencing an abusive relationship.”

Kelly McCarthy can be reached at [email protected]