Campus Assault Response, an organization dedicated to addressing sexual violence at JMU, will close its 24/7 helpline which provides support for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence after this semester. CARE made this decision after a decrease in the number of calls.
CARE president and junior biology major Alexis Schneider has been involved in the organization since the second semester of her freshman year. She said the helpline usage has steadily decreased, receiving 23 calls in the fall of 2016, 11 in the fall of 2017 and only three last semester.
“We don’t know exactly why there’s been a decrease in number of calls to the helpline,” Schneider said. “We speculate that it’s because people have more access to direct resources such as the Survivors Advocates here in the Well or going to the counseling center, as both of those have seen an increase in [the] number of students accessing them.”
CARE will still exist as an organization at JMU, even though its helpline will close after this semester. As the organization shifts its attention to primary prevention through peer education and building community for those impacted by sexual violence, it’s also adopted a new mission statement: "We are a student-led community at JMU dedicated to ending sexual violence and creating a culture of consent."
Junior history major Lauren Palmieri, CARE's presentation coordinator, is interested in the educational aspect and making connections with other organizations on campus. She’s also changing CARE’s lecture-based presentations to interactive workshops to ensure discussions arise among participants about what consent is. Facilitating consent culture within other organizations and their members is the goal of the workshops.
Palmieri said, when the CARE helpline was established in 1993, it was the only resource available for victims. She added how it’s important that the Collins Center, the “professional CARE of Harrisonburg,” is now an option for those who have been assaulted. Even though the helpline has received fewer calls over the years, she doesn’t think it’s a reason to believe the number of sexually violent assaults has changed.
“I don’t think there has been a major decrease in Title IX reportings,” Palmieri said. “So that’s kind of why we are taking that shift toward education and prevention so we can create a culture on our campus where we wouldn’t need to have a helpline.”
JMU’s Title lX Office creates a case file when, after conducting an initial review of the report, it’s determined that the alleged incident would fall under sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, relational violence and stalking.
In the 2016-2017 school year, there were a total of 71 new case files. In the 2017-18 school year, it rose to 127. As of April 17, the current count for new case files in the 2018-19 school year is 119.
Educating students about consent, debunking myths surrounding sexual violence and destigmatizing discussion about healthy relationships and sex is what CARE hopes to do moving forward. The student response to the helpline’s closing has been positive, Palmieri said.
“Everyone’s been pretty supportive of our change in direction,” Palmieri said. “They definitely agree that we need a place for primary prevention on our campus.”
Junior psychology and Spanish double major Zoe Diamond-Tapper is the helpline coordinator and vice president of CARE. Her “lofty goal” is to take preventative measures that will ultimately end sexual violence worldwide.
“We’re striving to build a solid support base for people who’ve personally been affected by sexual violence or had family, and are really passionate about this issue to have a space for them so that they can come and be with like-minded people and have a really supportive atmosphere,” Diamond-Tapper said.
The Well: Health Promotion and Well-Being is another source that is available for students on campus that promotes survivor advocacy and healthy sexuality. Veronica Whalen Jones is the Associate Director Health Promotion & Well-Being and has been with JMU since 2010. Last year, flyers were posted around campus about the Meet the Advocate Campaign, for students to be aware of personable resources to talk to.
“We went from having, more or less, one dedicated advocate to now we have two, and we’re training a third and, and training a fourth here soon,” Jones said. “What we did was more intentional marketing, letting people know who our survivor advocates were and what the resources were.”
Jones email signature ends with the quote, “When it comes to power-based violence prevention, no one has to everything...everyone has to do something.” This echoes CARE’s mentality that sexual assault prevention is everyone’s responsibility.
“I think they made the best decision for their organization and based off what they felt was the next best move,” Jones said. “I see it more as a opportunity now for us to have a student organization that is focusing also on mobilizing our community to end violence.”
The organization had its first CARE week last semester from Nov. 26-30, when it partnered with the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon to promote consent culture throughout campus. Fundraisers held throughout the week also raised money for the Collins Center.
Diamond-Tapper wants JMU to know that the philosophy of CARE to address sexual violence will not be gone. Their goal is to have a CARE week in 2019 to bring more awareness to the JMU community.
“Just because we are closing the helpline does not mean that CARE isn’t here,” Diamond-Tapper said. “We’re here, we are so excited about where we are moving forward, we’re excited to get new members and have more people involved with this. So to anyone who’s worried that there might not be a place for them at CARE, that’s certainly not true and we’re so excited to invite everybody to be a part of us.”
Contact Mitchell Sasser at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.