The new Peer Advocates for Change hotline is up and running and members of the group are meeting weekly to help provide free, safe and confidential services to students on campus dealing with various sexual and domestic abuse situations. PAC stemmed from the former “1 in 4” group on campus last year that focused on male peer to peer counseling. Doug Philips, who was both involved with that group and is now involved with PAC, said that, “We wanted to see it as a more inclusive group on campus and a group that can make real improvement.”
Others getting involved in this influential group are the C.H.A.N.G.E. Initiative’s Jaklyn VanManen, Dave Wentzell, Brittany Lafirira, Cayla Kehaya , Brittny Lechner and Phillip Audette .
Last Thursday it the PAC weekly meeting, group members spoke candidly about date rape and drugging and pushed each other to be passionate about trying to halt the practices.
With 10 presentations lined up in various classrooms around campus, the advocates are working hard to memorize their scripts that match the visual demonstrations that are planned in their presentations.
They coached each other on tone and meaning and at one point VanManen reminded them how important their work is.
“Be passionate! Remember what you’re here to do,” she said.
The goals and strategies of this new PAC group are simple: Provide 24/7 access to anyone who is in need of assistance in a time of crisis. And the help is not just through the hotline access, but through e-mails that are checked at least twice daily.
Every two weeks, two advocates are assigned duties for the week to monitor e-mail and man the hotline.
Van Manen said the group felt strongly that a hotline alone was not enough.
“We thought it was important to have another mode of communication outside of the phone because in a difficult situation, not everyone can even answer the basic questions we ask to a stranger’s voice. Even that can be too personal. In that sense, e-mails are great,” she said.
And if you thought this group was just peers who care, you are both right and wrong. They are passionate and compassionate, but they are also highly trained.
Kehaya said advocates have more than 30 hours of training to deal with student problems.
“We have tried to balance area resources and national resources, receiving training from places like the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter as well as from Steve Thompson, a sexual aggression expert out of Michigan,” VanManen said. “That training alone was 20 hours plus travel time.”
Another valuable skill this group brings to campus is experience. Although it is a tense subject, two of the advocates are survivors of physical or sexual assault.
“I know that I didn’t know that I had options or help, but I want to make sure other people know that if they need them, there are options,” one member said.
The other abuse victim said “In a time where someone is so confused, I want to be able to help ease the confusion.”
Although the advocates said they couldn’t discuss whether calls have been made to the hotline for confidential reasons, VanManen said that the response on campus has been supportive and that everyone seems really excited.
On a lighter note, everyone in PAC said they want it known that they aren’t anti-sex.
“We are for sex, just making sure that is consensual and safe!”.*
If you or someone you know has been victimized by domestic or sexual violence, the 24 hour PAC line is 802-417-1408 and the email is firstname.lastname@example.org.