There's no way to know how many crimes of sexual violence go unreported.
But Winthrop University, through a Department of Justice grant, soon will have one more resource dedicated to educating the campus about sexual violence and shepherding victims through the difficult process of reporting a sexual crime and seeking treatment.
The grant will help create a more cohesive community response to male and female survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, said Michelle Mann, Winthrop's director of Health and Counseling Services.
"Currently, we have all the different players involved in supporting" victims of these crimes, she said.
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"We just don't have them all under one roof, and we don't have anyone to coordinate that effort."
Requiring no matching funds, the $299,209 grant will fund the creation of an Office of Victims Assistance within Mann's department over the next three years.
A new full-time victim services coordinator will act as a liaison between the university and community partners, including Safe Passage, which provides services to victims of abuse in the region, and the 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office. The university is interviewing candidates for the position, Mann said.
The grant also will fund a part-time counselor as well as campuswide education and training initiatives for students, faculty and staff.
Programs will include an online training course on dating violence for new students, training to help faculty and staff recognize signs of dating violence among students, and information about where to direct students who need support.
Support will be available primarily for students, though members of the campus community won't be turned away, Mann said.
"South Carolina is one of the worst states in terms of sexual violence. We know that it happens; it's just not that widely reported," Mann said. "We want to increase awareness so that people report instances of sexual violence, whether it's dating violence or sexual assault."
It's also the most intimate of any kind of violence for both men and women, said Jane Alleva, interim executive director at Safe Passage, York County's rape crisis center, and a place where victims of abuse can get help.
"It takes away everything that we know to be true" about love and intimacy and causes victims to question themselves, she said.
Key to prevention
Only four instances of sexual assault were reported at Winthrop University between 2007 and 2009, according to crime statistics provided on the university website.
College students might not report when abuses occur if they're engaging in risky behavior such as drinking alcohol, Alleva said. Out of fear of getting into trouble, "they won't report it," she said.
Much of the new initiative will focus on helping students move beyond those fears to seek help, she said.
Working with Safe Passage, Alleva sees the consequence of sexual crime victims not seeking help.
"We have a lot of adults in their 30s and 40s who are really going through a significant trauma," when their sexual violence took place years before, she said.
"If we had been able to help them right off from the beginning, the odds of that long-term trauma become a lot less," she said.
Winthrop Police Chief Frank Zebedis believes the new initiative will enhance the victim services already provided by the police department and elsewhere on campus.
Reports of sexual violence might increase as a result of victim education, but that's a good thing, he said.
"It doesn't mean things have gotten worse. It means that people are coming forward and getting help. We want to help them."