A Steubenville, Ohio, rape case exhibits just what can happen when a situation gets out of control. What began as a night of partying in August 2012, ended with an intoxicated 16-year-old West Virginia girl being violated, other teenagers standing by and doing nothing, with pictures and text messages posted on social media. Two high-school football stars have been sentenced to time in the Ohio juvenile system; others could be charged for obstruction of justice, failing to report the attack, or both.
Recently, Barnard College received a $5,000 grant from the Avon Foundation for Women to train people in intervention techniques in the hopes of preventing such incidents. Known as the “m.powerment by mark. Healthy Relationship College Program” grant, the funds will be used to start a bystander-intervention program. “Imagine if people really understood what they could do to help,” says Mary Joan L. Murphy, PNP-BC, MSN, MPH, executive director of student health and wellness programs at the College, who applied for the grant. “Education is key to getting the message out about how ‘no’ means ‘no,’ as well as what is assault,” says Murphy.
The Avon Foundation for Women received more than 172 applications from colleges nationwide seeking an m.powerment grant to fund preventive education programs on dating abuse and violence, sexual assault, and stalking, as well as those programs promoting healthy relationships. Barnard was one of 25 recipients. It’s the first time the school has received a grant from the foundation, which has spent over $33 million to fight domestic violence in the United States.
“The Avon Foundation for Women is significant in its support of women’s issues,” says Abigail Feder-Kane, Barnard’s former senior director of institutional support who oversaw the grant application to make sure it met the criteria laid out in the guidelines. “Receiving a grant from Avon is very good for Barnard’s reputation in the general funding world, and hopefully, it will bring more public attention to Barnard and help us to get additional grants in the future,” she adds.
“It made a lot of sense for us to apply, given how strong our rape crisis center and entire sexual-assault program is,” says Murphy.
Created in 1991 by Barnard College and Columbia University students, the Barnard/Columbia Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center provides peer advocacy and education to the entire student university community, including running a 24-hour help line staffed by student volunteers who are certified by the city’s Department of Health. Originally located in Butler Hall, the center has moved to 105 Hewitt in the Barnard Quad. “What we have learned about intimate-partner violence and sexual assaults on campus is that a number of students often witness these events and want to help but are not sure how to intervene,” says Dr. Karen Singleton, director of the Sexual Violence Response (SVR), a program of Columbia Health at Columbia University.
Those who run that program, which includes the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center along with the Men’s Peer-Education Program, have been working with other departments at Columbia and Barnard to start a bystander-intervention program since 2010.
“Any time we can find outside support for programming that has already been defined as a high priority for the College, there are good and practical reasons to do so,” says Feder-Kane. “The college was already planning to move forward with the program, and the outside funding ensures that we can make it even better.”
“Part of the money will go toward developing materials to get the message out about healthy and safe relationships,” notes Murphy. “We have been brainstorming about some of the tools that will help us do this. We want to use this money to reach as many groups as possible. The rape crisis center has already done education and intervention models for the athletic teams at Columbia, but we want to reach people from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
The goal is to unveil the bystander- intervention program in the fall. “Right now we are developing the curriculum,” says Singleton. “We are looking at what has been done on other campuses and deciding if we want to take elements from those programs and create our own, or if we would rather adopt one in place at another institution.”