After department move, sexual assault response team grows

Media Credit: Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Carrie Ross, the assistant director for sexual assault training and response, brought a team of faculty and staff trained to respond to sexual assault under the purview of the Title IX Office earlier this year to make it more visible to students

Updated: Jan. 21, 2016 at 12:25 p.m.

Since the University’s team of sexual assault responders moved under the umbrella of the Title IX office, its leader has been focused on boosting the group’s numbers.

Carrie Ross, the assistant director for sexual assault training and response, said moving the Sexual Assault Response Consultative team into GW’s Title IX office last spring has smoothed the process for reporting sexual violence to the University. She said the change has helped make the team a more noticeable option for survivors and other students.

The SARC team lost its leader earlier this year and has lost staff members over the years, but Ross said that after the move into the Office of Diversity and Inclusion – which houses the Title IX Office – at the end of last spring, she has re-staffed the group and has high hopes.

SARC members are faculty and staff from any part of the University who are trained to respond to sexual violence 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Responders can assist survivors through the process of reporting an assault and may accompany them to the hospital for a forensic medical exam.

“People have been hungry for a central office where all of this stuff happens,” Ross said. “Because we have more resources and attention now, there’s one place that all of this stuff falls to.”

She added that she has been working on the transition since last spring when she first arrived at GW to serve in her newly created position.

Last summer, Suzanne Combs, the University’s victims’ services coordinator, left GW and officials have not yet found a replacement. Officials also did not publicly announce her departure. Combs was the main contact for sexual assault survivors within the University, but that responsibility has since shifted to officials in UPD and in the Title IX Office.

UPD oversaw Combs’ position. Combs was the primary resource for sexual assault survivors during a nearly yearlong timeframe without a permanent Title IX coordinator. Ross said that during the months leading up to her hiring, more responsibilities fell onto Combs.

Since SARC’s responsibilities officially moved to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Ross said she has increased the number of responders to a “core group” of 10 to 12 people, but her ideal number is closer to 15 or 18.

“We are up to a much more manageable core group of people,” Ross said.

The SARC website currently lists seven members of the team with Ross as the coordinator. An archive of the same site from May listed eight team members with Combs as the coordinator.

Ross added that staff members who serve on the team are from different divisions within the University, including accountants, the program coordinator for student involvement and Greek Life and faculty, which Ross called “extremely helpful.”

“Having faculty has been helpful in terms of identifying the kinds of questions people are going to have and resources we might not think about on the staff side,” Ross said.

In the past, some faculty outside of the SARC team have said that they do not know their responsibilities for reporting sexual assault, which some are legally required to do, even if a student comes to them in confidence.

Ross has focused on strengthening training for new SARC members over a period of several months since she took over as the group’s leader. Those training sessions included basics on options for reporting sexual abuse to campus, local and medical officials and how to deal with survivors in what Ross called a “trauma-informed” way.

Ross said that once she reaches her goal number of SARC responders, she hopes to make the group more visible by having members attend organization fairs and participating in awareness events on campus.

Most universities have teams of responders on campuses that can respond to students who report sexual assault, but there’s no clear consensus on which college division is the best to house the teams. The University of Miami, one of GW’s peer institutions, runs a sexual assault response hotline through the counseling center and New York University’s program is led mostly by counselors.

This post has been updated to reflect the following correction.
The Hatchet incorrectly reported members of the SARC team can serve as court advocates. That is a responsibility specifically for the victims’ services coordinator or the Title IX Coordinator. We regret this error.

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