TUCSON, Ariz. — In just one year, the Survivor Advocacy Program at the University of Arizona has shifted the conversation surrounding sexual assault for the better.
"We didn't have a confidential resource that could provide on going support and referrals to students on a more immediate bases to them," One of the pioneers for the program Elise Lopez said.
Lopez said before the program, many students who experience any interpersonal violence or harassment could go to the title nine office to report it, but this was considered a formal report.
To many students who experience this trauma, Lopez said they have a hard time filing a formal report initially. However, the program helps give students a way to confidentially report the trauma they've experienced.
For this past year, Lopez said they've seen an increase in people coming forward because of it.
"I think we're seeing a huge cultural shift around reporting, honestly and that's what we want," Lopez said. "Sometimes we think, 'oh an institution is having a huge number of reports all of a sudden, it must mean that there is more violence going on', but really, it's probably the same amount of violence that was there, but now people feel safe to come forward."
This program helps students get counseling, medical help, file a police report or formal report, or just be support for them. Everything is on the survivor's terms.
This summer Lopez said the program has also been able to provide training to UA Police Department and Tucson Police Department.
"In traditional investigation, we ask for just the facts right who, what, when, where, why, but with somebody who experienced trauma the brain tends to remember things from a sensory experience and out of order.>
This training allows officers to understand of how a trauma survivor feels, so they can better investigate their situation.
"I think this program has really been a catalyst for change on our campus," Lopez said. "We're definitely seeing a lot more open conversations on campus."
She said it's not just survivors coming forward, but their friends and spouses trying to figure out the best solutions to helping their loved ones.
In the next coming years, the program hopes to get more faculty and students involved in continuing to better the conversation around supporting survivors at the UA.