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Baltimore area colleges share $750K grant to fight sexual assault

(Loyola University Maryland submitted photo)

(Loyola University Maryland submitted photo)

A $750,000 federal grant will help 10 Baltimore area colleges and universities beef up their response to — and efforts to prevent — sexual violence, officials announced Friday.

The group of schools is known as the Baltimore Area Higher Education Coalition Against Sexual Violence. Loyola University Maryland is leading the partnership.

Other members of the coalition are Community College of Baltimore County, Coppin State University, Goucher College, McDaniel College, Maryland Institute College of Art, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Stevenson University, Towson University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

More than 125,000 students attend coalition schools.

By working together, the institutions will have more success in preventing future violence and improving victim services than if they proceeded individually, according to Katsura Kurita, Loyola’s assistant vice president for student development and Title IX deputy coordinator.

The grant, provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, will help increase awareness of — and access to — services for survivors of sexual assault and dating violence; better train campus response teams; and expand efforts to prevent these incidents, such as encouraging bystanders to intervene.

Part of that effort will be to make sure investigators and panels that respond to reports of violence are more sensitive to the trauma experienced by victims.

“There’s a lot of victim blaming that can go on,” Kurita said, explaining that investigators may ask questions — like why a victim had so much drink — that can add to the emotional trauma of the incident and discourage victims from pursuing charges because they don’t feel their stories will be believed.

“We want students to feel more comfortable, to feel like they’re being heard,” Kurita said.

Another goal will be to increase awareness of sexual assault forensic exams, also called SAFE exams or “rape kits,” which allow medical professionals to collect and preserve DNA evidence of a sexual assault.  More publicity about what these examinations entail can encourage more victims to get them, Kurita said.

Funds will also be used to develop a single mobile app to provide information about the resources available to victims of sexual violence on all the coalition’s campuses; that way, someone who is attacked while visiting a different campus can still get help, Kurita said.

The coalition will work with the Baltimore City Police Department, the sexual assault and domestic assault support center TurnAround Inc., and the Baltimore Collegetown Network to implement the changes funded by the grant.

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