Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Volunteers help sexual assault survivors cope

DU’s Campus Safety For the Record reports eight sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults in 2006. National statistics are worse, indicating that one in four women is sexually assaulted while in college. Yet, only one in 10 of these women report their assault, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report. 

Lisa Ingarfield, Coordinator of DU’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office, is working to change this climate of silence by using a highly trained group of volunteers to serve assault survivors one-on-one by providing emotional support and referral information.

The Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate Network is an on-call group of DU faculty, staff and students who help female and male survivors cope with the physical, psychological, judicial and legal aftermath of sexual assault.

“Our mission is to assist and support survivors of sexual assault on campus, as well as their friends and family,” Ingarfield says. “The assault doesn’t have to happen on campus. It could have happened somewhere else or before they came to college.”

The first training was in Fall 2006 and 11 advocates went on-call in January 2007. Melissa Martinez, academic adviser/coordinator for multicultural student advising, was trained last year and began taking calls in January. 

“I was motivated to participate in this program because I have watched friends and students deal with the aftermath of a sexual assault and I wanted to be able to provide support and resources to them,” Martinez says.

Currently, the call center operates from 8 a.m.–8 p.m. seven days a week. Ingarfield’s goal is to keep the service open 24 hours a day, but she needs more volunteers.

This fall, nine more volunteers are in training, meeting every Wednesday evening through Nov. 14. The trainees tour the emergency room at the Denver Health Medical Center, speak with a sexual assault nurse examiner and are visited by members of the district attorney’s office and the police department.

Ingarfield says her biggest challenge is in getting the word out about the service and in breaking survivors’ fear of speaking up.

“Over 85 percent of assaults are perpetrated by someone you know,” she says. “In a small college environment, everybody knows each other and a lot of survivors don’t report because they fear their friends will ostracize them or won’t believe them.”

Ingarfield plans to run another training in January 2008. For more information, call 303-871-3853.

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