The University Record, July 22, 2002

SAPAC serves important role on campus

By Michelle Begnoche
University Record Intern

In 1986, U-M students persuaded University officials to address the safety issues women on campus face. The student action spawned the creation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC). Sixteen years later SAPAC continues its mission to provide support for victims of sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, sexual harassment, and stalking.

SAPAC will gain a passionate new advocate Aug. 1 when Kelly Cichy becomes its new director. Cichy has her doctorate in anthropology from Southern Illinois University and served as the executive director of the Women’s Center Inc, in Carbondale, Ill., prior to joining U-M.

For Cichy, organizations like SAPAC are a necessity on college campuses, and the numbers seem to back her up. During the 2001–02 academic year 122 cases of sexual assault were reported to SAPAC, along with 25 cases of domestic violence and 22 cases of stalking.

“Having services available that are free and having the people that are working there committed to making sure students have an opportunity to heal, is critical,” Cichy says. “Without a place like SAPAC you find more students that discontinue their academic careers, either temporarily or permanently.”

When an attack occurs, SAPAC offers an array of services to assist the victim. SAPAC volunteers stand ready at the 24-hour crisis hotline to disburse support and information in confidential conversations with victims and their friends and family. Outreach services are available, too, with teams of two women accompanying victims to the hospital to receive an exam or to the police station to file a report.

SAPAC also employs professional counselors to assist victims on a more permanent basis. “The victims are trying to remake their entire sense of self,” says Cichy, “they need a long-term ability to do this.” Victims can receive counseling from SAPAC as long as they need it.

One of SAPAC’s main goals is to educate the community on issues surrounding sexual assault. “The more a community sees it as an issue, the more reason it will have to do work to eradicate it,” says LaTresa Wiley, interim director and crisis line coordinator. “It becomes a community problem where everybody has a role to play.”

In order to maintain awareness, SAPAC sponsors lectures and discussions on issues relating to sexual assault and violence, and publishes a quarterly newsletter, Aware, which addresses sexism and violence.

Another large part of SAPAC’s mission is educating people on the dangers of sexual crimes. Teams of volunteers lead workshops and discussions for any group or individual requesting it. The workshops focus on sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

While awareness may help to prevent an assault, Cichy points out, “Sexual assault is a crime perpetrated by one person against another. It is not something we do, it is something someone else does to us, so there is no way to prevent it 100 percent.”

Because the only statistics SAPAC has are officially reported cases of sexual assault, it is difficult to determine how prevalent sexual assault is on campus. “If we have more reports, that doesn’t mean we have more assaults occurring, it just means more people are reporting,” explains Wiley. Wiley says U-M’s rate of sexual assault is comparable to other campuses.

While people may never be completely safe from sexual assault, precautions can be taken to reduce the risk. Cichy advises people to be aware of their surroundings, stay with trusted friends and, most important, “Follow your gut. If you are in a situation and something doesn’t feel good in your stomach, get out.”

SAPAC services are available for all U-M students, faculty and staff. For more information go to www.umich.edu/~sapac.