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MIT Medical Grant Enters Second Year Violence Against Women Grant Sees Progress

By Kirtana Raja

The Violence Against Women Act grant program is entering its second year after an initial year of basic planning that included creating a Community Response Group, programs to train MIT undergraduates, training MIT staff and police on harassment protocols, developing a new campus policy on sexual violence, and developing a new MIT Medical protocol to treat violence victims.

The $200,000 grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women was first announced in August 2005 by William M. Kettyle, director of MIT Medical.

Then-health educator Laura A. Stuart and Clinical Director for Campus Life Maryanne Kirkbride were key players in obtaining the grant. Julie Halverson, graduate assistant with the MIT medical department, is primarily in charge of the program this year and plans to reapply for the grant at the end of 2006.

Kirkbride said that the VAWA program has accomplished at least 80–85 percent of the goals that they set out to complete at the beginning of last year but are still looking to develop more training programs for faculty, staff, and students.

Among VAWA’s other plans include formulating rape aggression defense classes to be given by the MIT police department, developing a better freshman advising program which would give freshman a chance all year long to discuss harassment issues, creating a life skills curriculum, and offering more programs to increase awareness on campus.

VAWA created an active CRG which meets about every month and raises awareness of violence in the community and includes students, faculty, and outside community partners such as the Boston Rape center. Both Kirkbride and Halverson said that they want to include MIT student groups more actively in this year’s meetings, in the hopes that students will give their input regarding possible VAWA initiatives for their next grant proposal.

VAWA has also formulated a protocol for MIT medical workers to follow when an assault victim comes to them in need of assistance, which can be found on the MIT medical Website as well as the newly developed VAWA brochures. Protocols for the MIT police department to follow when dealing with harassment cases have also been outlined, said Halverson.

A VAWA subcommittee was responsible for making an addendum to the harassment section of the MIT rule book on conduct, adding several key terms such as “sexual harassment,” “rape,” and “assault.” Halverson said that these definitions would be something that the Committee on Discipline could refer to when looking at cases of sexual harassment.

A new freshman orientation program entitled “Sex Signals” replaced the speech given by a rape victim from previous years. Halverson said that general consensus indicated that the new program was well received.

Halverson said that she has heard that more students are coming out to talk about their harassment experiences.

“It’s good to have more awareness of these issues and to be able to give people a safe venue to come and discuss what has happened to them if they feel like it,” Halverson said.