Sexual assault. Stalking. Domestic violence. They happen even in the MIT community, says Kate McCarthy, who directs the efforts of MIT Medical's Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) team. Along with McCarthy, team members Kelley Adams and Duane de Four spend every day tackling the tough subject of violence prevention at MIT. They provide education and outreach to the entire community and advocate for survivors of sexual violence, dating abuse and stalking.
This month, VPR is working with a number of campus and community groups to sponsor educational events on campus and to inform the MIT community about related events in nearby communities. A complete list of events can be found at MIT's Sexual Assault Awareness Month website.
As a member of the VPR team, de Four focuses on community outreach. A longtime educator and trainer, de Four is known nationally for his work with professional athletes, members of the military and students. Here at MIT, he works with a variety of campus groups, including fraternities, sororities, independent living groups and varsity athletes.
"Our goals are to raise awareness, promote resources, and focus on prevention through the lens of 'bystander intervention'," he explains. No matter the audience, de Four's message is the same: encouraging individuals to reduce the occurrence of violence and abuse by being proactive bystanders and looking out for each other.
Direct support and critical research
Adams describes her role as more behind the scenes. As a researcher, she is leading an audit of how MIT collects sexual assault statistics. She's also conducting a study on how survivors of violence use services on and off campus in an effort to better understand survivor experiences and referral patterns and improve interoffice coordination.
As a victim advocate, Adams works directly with survivors and others seeking help for someone they know. To create a space for discussion, she also started the Saturday Night @ MIT blog, where members of the community can share their experiences with sexual or partner violence or abuse.
"VPR can be the hub for someone who's been through a traumatic or violent experience," she says. "Our role is to be the connection between the survivor and all the resources." If requested, VPR can contact the police or disciplinary committee on campus; help address a housing issue or a classroom or work conflict; or connect the person to mental health counselors, student support services and other similar supports.
New 24-hour hotline
The latest VPR initiative is a 24-hour confidential hotline launched in April 2011. "We are totally survivor centered," McCarthy emphasizes. "We make it very casual and open; we don't require names, dates or details. We're primarily there to answer questions, to listen, and, if the person asks us to, we'll reach out to whoever needs to be contacted."
Having a campus-based hotline is one more way to remove perceived barriers to seeking help, Adams says. "Every institution has its own culture," she adds, noting that individuals in the MIT community might be more comfortable talking to someone who understands the environment in which they live.
VPR can help in a variety of situations, McCarthy stresses. "We can help people dealing with situations on campus or off campus," she said. "We can even help if you're dealing with something that happened before you came to MIT or if you need help in supporting a friend." For 24-hour assistance or advice, call the VPR hotline at 617-253-2300. For information about sponsoring an educational program, call Duane De Four at 617-253-1307. You can also reach VPR by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.