Advocacy agencies say formal partnership with KU would help sex assault victims, avoid duplicating services

GaDuGi SafeCenter and the Willow Domestic Violence Center already provide services to the Kansas University campus and its students, but KU has no formal partnership with either agency.

Leaders of the sexual and domestic violence victim advocacy organizations say that should change.

Speaking to KU’s Sexual Assault Task Force on Friday, Willow executive director Joan Schultz and GaDuGi executive director Chrissy Heikkila recommended that KU enter into a memorandum of understanding formalizing partnerships and defining the agencies’ roles on campus.

“I feel like there’s been a lack of understanding and support for what our services are,” Heikkila said.

“That’s been a struggle, this idea that they need to be reinvented, or reinvented on campus.”

They said their agencies have trained professionals and are designed to support victims on a case-by-case basis — that goes for area-wide residents and KU students alike. So a new program isn’t needed, just a better bridge.

Heikkila and Schultz said both their organizations have good relationships with certain staffers and departments within the university.

However, they said, a formal agreement at the university level would be better.

Areas such an agreement might address include outreach and education efforts — some of which GaDuGi and Willow already do on campus — and how victims are put in touch with advocates.

Heikkila said KU currently refers victims to support agencies like GaDuGi and Willow. But actually making that call is hard, she said, and some victims never do.

Heikkila said other community partners such as Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the district attorney’s office call GaDuGi directly, and an on-call advocate comes and personally greets a sexual assault victim and explains how they can help. If the victim doesn’t want help, the advocate just leaves.

Some discussion at Friday’s task force meeting addressed whether a new sexual assault victim advocate KU hired earlier this fall duplicated services.

Sara Jane Russell, who formerly worked at GaDuGi, was hired for one year, said task force member Nate Thomas, vice provost for diversity and equity. He said further study was needed before KU decides whether to make that position permanent.

Heikkila and Schultz said the new position seemed like a step in the right direction, but that it’s too early to judge whether it is needed on a permanent basis.

Task force members talked about GaDuGi and Willow at their Oct. 24 meeting. Most knew the agencies were involved on campus but weren’t exactly sure how.

“Everybody works in these silos,” Thomas said.

Task force member Emma Halling, recent acting student body president, noted that the KU Student Senate does fund GaDuGi and Willow to the tune of roughly $50,000 a year because they provide social services to KU students.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little created KU’s Sexual Assault Task Force in September to study and recommend ways to improve the university’s sexual assault response and prevention.

The task force expects to make some recommendations regarding university policy in early December and is scheduled to continue meeting throughout the school year.