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Center for Women and Community serves sexual assault survivors across Hampshire County and advocates for change

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Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Nestled between Franklin Dining Commons and Orchard Hill, the Center for Women and Community sits in the New Africa House at the University of Massachusetts.

The CWC serves not just the UMass community but Hampshire County as a whole in its work providing “education, leadership opportunities, advocacy and support services that address the cause and impact of sexism and recognize the multiple oppressions experienced by women,” according to its website.

These services include counseling and rape crisis support.

The CWC follows an empowerment-based model, according to Becky Lockwood, associate director of counseling and rape crisis services for the Center. Lockwood explained that the CWC sees its role as providing information to a survivor of sexual assault and then supporting the survivor’s choice.

Lockwood provided the example of a survivor calling the Center’s 24-hour hotline to demonstrate what steps the CWC takes next to support survivors.

“First, we assess their safety – both physical and mental,” Lockwood said.

From there, crisis counselors provide information to survivors about their support options. This can include helping the survivor develop a safety plan, seek medical attention or make a criminal complaint.

Survivors who seek medical attention and want evidence to be collected can be examined by a confidential Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. This can be performed at University Health Services but also any area hospital, Lockwood said.

A sexual assault forensic evidence collection is free in the state of Massachusetts and can be performed within the first 120 hours after the assault occurred.

The CWC has medical advocates on call throughout any time at every day in the year. These advocates understand the forensic evidence collection process that goes into a rape kit and are considered confidential crisis counselors who provide the survivor with support throughout the process, Lockwood said. Advocates can be requested directly by the student or contacted by UHS or hospital.

According to the CWC’s website, these advocates can also “accompany (survivors) to initial appointments with primary care providers and family planning programs.”

The CWC also offers civilian advocates for survivors who report the assault to police. According to Lockwood, the CWC has advocates that work directly with the UMass Police Department, Amherst Police Department and Northampton Police Department.

These advocates can explain to a survivor what the legal process looks like and help a survivor decide if a criminal complaint is something they would like to pursue. Civilian advocates can also sit with the survivor during interviews with police, district attorney’s office and court.

In terms of counseling services, the CWC offers confidential peer counseling for up to 10 appointments and a variety of support groups.

According to Lockwood, Massachusetts requires confidential rape crisis counselors to meet certain standards. These include training in basic legal skills, safety planning, medical evidence collection and “understanding sexual violence in the context of the culture.”

According to their website, these services are for “survivors of all genders and gender identities and expressions.” The CWC can also help refer survivors to long-term counseling providers and emergency housing and food assistance.

Improving the culture

“We live in a culture where sexual assault is permissible,” Lockwood said. However, she has seen an improvement with more national attention being brought to the issue.

She said this has enabled “real, positive change.”

At UMass, Lockwood said that the “Dean’s office has really tried to make themselves available (to survivors),” and that the University does a good job making sure the charged student gets their due process.

She added: “The process is really good, it’s really consistent.”

But what can students do to support survivors?

“Believe them,” Lockwood answered.

She believes that there needs to be many more conversations about what consent looks like. She added that this includes tackling the problem of victim blaming.

“There is a lot of ignorance around if alcohol is involved,” Lockwood said. “If someone can’t stand up on their own, if someone’s speech is slurred, if someone is vomiting because they had so much to drink – they can’t consent.”

“We need to challenge the idea that sex is a commodity, you know, like it doesn’t involve another person,” she added. “There’s this thinking that, ‘I don’t care if someone can consent.’ I’ve heard on this campus that yes just means try harder.”

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MarieMacCune.

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