DVA/SAC trains new advocates

Grinnell student organization Domestic Violence Alternatives Student Assault Center (DVA/SAC) campus advocates, is growing in size as it wraps up training for new advocates. The organization is collaborating with other student groups as it plans new projects for the year.
This year’s DVA/SAC is led by Allison Brinkhorst ’11 and Alex Peterson ’11, and advised by Rabbi Howard Stein. The group meets about once a month, with additional meetings depending if there are upcoming projects, such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. Alexander Rich-Shea ’12, a campus advocate, explained that though “the organization itself doesn’t [meet] a lot, it’s about how much the members want to do personally.”
DVA/SAC is sponsored by greater Iowa organizations against domestic violence and sexual assault that provide on-campus trainings and serve as resources for Grinnell’s DVA/SAC.
The group is a campus branch of an Iowa organization called DVA/SAC that opposes domestic violence and sexual assault by raising awareness in the community through on and off campus events and providing victim support via the DVA/SAC hotline and peer advocates.
Each year, DVA/SAC campus advocates take on a variety of events and projects, often drawing help from the wider student body. Last year DVA/SAC organized Walk A Mile in Her Shoes and the Red Flags Campaign—both aimed at spreading awareness about sexual violence in Marshalltown and both cancelled due to the outbreak of swine flu. Members of DVA/SAC also helped in the Skylife Project, which tries to get commutations for life sentences of cases of domestic violence or sexual abuse.
In order to become a DVA/SAC advocate, one must complete the mandatory 32-hour training component. The training is broken up into sessions over the course of two weeks and is facilitated by a professional instructor from a DVA/SAC shelter. Typically, the training is offered on campus only once a year, but due to increased demand this year, DVA/SAC plans to host another training at some point during the spring semester.
“Once the training is done, you have legal status in the state of Iowa as an advocate which gives you certain rights,” said Rich-Shea. These rights include accompanying sexual assault victims to the hospital, attending court proceedings and refusing to be subpoenaed to disclose confidential sessions.
This year, the organization put together a presentation for NSO and is focusing on implementing healthy relationship classes at Toledo State Training School for Girls in Toledo, Iowa, a project in conjunction with the Prison Program and the Feminist Action Coalition. The advocates are also organizing volunteers to support the DVA/SAC office located in downtown Grinnell.
According to co-leader Peterson, Grinnell’s DVA/SAC campus advocates was founded with the intention of creating a group that will provide direct student support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Since then, DVA/SAC has modified its original vision, now serving primarily as a student resource and working as a liaison between the DVA/SAC shelter in Marshalltown, though campus advocates are still available to meet with victims upon request.
The main reason for this shift in focus deals with the issue of privacy. “I think students tend to be more comfortable [talking] with people not on campus, since we are a small campus,” Peterson said. “Now it’s moving more towards an educational [organization].”
Confidentiality is a core value of DVA/SAC that epitomizes it’s purpose. “In our training we are told to be very confidential and to not to tell very many people that we are DVA advocates, but in doing educational stuff on campus we have to tell them who we are,” Brinkhorst said.
In order to balance confidentiality and awareness, some advocates maintain their anonymity, while some, such as Brinkhorst, Peterson and Rich-Shea, choose to be visible advocates.
In part due to DVA/SAC’s confidentiality, there are various misconceptions surrounding the organization. One misconception is that the DVA/SAC hotline (x4440)—as advertised by practically every bathroom on campus—is operated by Grinnell College advocates. The extension actually routes callers to the DVA/SAC shelter in Marshalltown, answered by professional employees or shelter volunteers.
Co-leader Brinkhorst pinpoints another misconception, one that is often at the root of sexual violence cases.
“There is a misconception in Grinnell that it’s totally safe [and that] everyone is trustworthy. Yes, Grinnell’s a great place, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of issues of sexual assault and intimate partner violence [especially] issues with ‘are you too drunk to consent,’ which was a big focus of our NSO presentation,” Brinkhorst said.
Students interested in becoming a DVA/SAC campus advocate can contact co-leaders [brinkall] or [peterson6] to receive information about future training opportunities or to volunteer for upcoming DVA/SAC events.

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