Plans persist, evolve for on-campus sexual assault survivor center

The University has yet to make a commitment to the proposed Campus Assault Advocacy, Resources and Education Center

Demands for the Campus Assault Advocacy, Resources and Education Center are amplified this week as students across all four campuses march with the Women's Coalition and Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault to pressure ASU to make a commitment to support sexual assault survivors in a way students think is best. 

A 20-page proposal suggests the CAARE Center would be an on-campus resource with on-campus advocates working to exclusively support sexual assault survivors who are ASU students or employees as they wade through finding academic, mental, legal, medical and safety support and accommodations. The center would occupy a standalone building on the Tempe campus, with satellite offices on additional campuses. 

SDASA, a support and advocacy group not affiliated with the University, has been working on the CAARE Center proposal for months, gathering the support of on-campus groups like the Women's Coalition and all four branches of Undergraduate Student Government

According to a previous investigation by The State Press, 68 incidents of rape were reported at ASU from 2017 to 2019. The number reflects an increase of 14 compared to the preceding three-year period and records show not a single case from 2017 to 2019 investigated by ASU Police Department was prosecuted at the county level. 

READ MORE: ASU's sexual assault investigation processes leave survivors traumatized, often without justice

At least 277 instances of sexual assault have been reported at ASU since 2014, according to data from the school. According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 13% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. About one in five college-aged females received assistance from a victims service agency, and a similar number reported the incident to law enforcement. 

ASU alumna Jasmine Lester, founder and director of SDASA, said in an email the CAARE Center would be available to all students, "including online students who reside out of state and don't have access to Arizona's Family Advocacy Centers."

The proposal also asks the ASU Foundation to create a survivor fund for victims in financial need. In addition, the proposal requests the center house the University's Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Program and that it be expanded with additional staff. 

Farhat Ali, a co-president of the Women's Coalition and junior studying political science and women and gender studies, said she hopes the University reviews the proposal and looks internally to reform systems in place while preparing for the center to be built. 

According to the proposal, the CAARE Center should have at least 17 full-time employees: nine confidential victim advocates, a policy analyst, graduate outreach coordinator, three prevention coordinators and some administrative positions. 

Ali said the Women's Coalition was told by administrators the University is attempting to cut costs due to COVID-19 and the employment of nine new confidential victim advocates may not be feasible. Instead, Ali said she was told the University is looking internally to give counselors and other willing employees special training for sexual violence prevention and trauma so they could work as part-time advocates. 

University says it's been looking internally to improve existing services

The two groups, SDASA and the Women's Coalition, compromised on the demand for on-campus forensic exams. Instead, advocates who work at the center should assist survivors in accessing rape kits through a Family Advocacy Center. 

"We do not plan to make any other compromises because implementing every portion of our CAARE Center proposal is imperative to preventing and responding to campus sexual violence," Lester said in an email.

Ali, and another Women's Coalition co-president, Mastaani Qureshi, said all communication from the University has come from Joanne Vogel, vice president of student services, or the club's adviser, never from ASU President Michael Crow, despite efforts to reach him directly.

In a February meeting with The State Press, Crow said the school was "only interested in the health, well being and success of our students, including those that have been sexually assaulted ... We don't know that putting 'rape center' on the side of a building for people to walk in is necessarily the best way to provide that help and assistance to them."

Crow said the University and its teams through the Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Program are "looking to improve services, to enhance response times, to further educate our police."

Qureshi, a junior studying history and justice studies, said the CAARE Center is imperative to the safety and health of students. It would act as a centralized structure on campus with resources for students who have experienced trauma and who want to learn how it can be prevented. 

Lester said she'd only been present at one meeting with ASU administrators, and "it felt like pulling teeth." At an open forum where Crow and Vogel answered questions, Lester said Vogel seemed more concerned with advertising existing resources, rather than their quality. 

In addition, Lester said the University ought to offer students the necessary help they need without relying solely on off-campus sites, like health clinics and Family Advocacy Centers.

"There are campus-specific accommodations college students need in the aftermath of sexual violence to ensure they continue their education," Lester said. 

Tempe Family Advocacy Center is similar, different and not yet a reality

Outside of ASU's Tempe campus, city resources exist in various locations; there is currently no singular, centralized place where a Tempe resident could coordinate with police, the Department of Child Safety, medical services, counseling as well as food and clothing resources at the same time. 

Last July, Tempe Family Justice Commissioner Mary O'Grady expressed support for the development of a Family Advocacy Center that provides "trauma-informed services by centralizing all victim assistance," according to a written exploration update about the center. 

According to a presentation delivered March 18, the Family Advocacy Center would serve as a single facility for services with secure spaces for examinations, interviews and counseling, as well as administrative offices and comfortable rooms in a "conveniently accessible" location. 

The Tempe Family Advocacy Center is an estimated 10,000 square foot facility with an estimated one-time cost of $487,150 and an annual cost of $276,500. The City of Tempe predicts its overall budget estimate over five years is approximately $1,869,650. 

ASU PD would likely provide the Family Advocacy Center with one special victims unit detective and one victim advocate, a person within ASU PD meant to ensure crime victims, witnesses and family members receive free, confidential support. 

Tempe PD would provide six special victims unit detectives and a sergeant while the city's Human Services Department would bring four victim advocates, a victim advocate coordinator, trauma therapist, crisis intervention specialist and "comfort canine." 

Meeting documents show ASU has "offered additional support and resources" in addition to staff resources that include connections to researchers, grant-writing support, an outcome analysis and enhanced subject matter knowledge. 

Members of the Tempe Human Services Department, Police Department and the University agree "having the ability to treat victims in one location where they can meet with investigating law enforcement officers, health care providers, crisis counselors and victim advocates results in a collaborative response that helps minimize the trauma that the victim may experience and promotes engagement within the criminal justice system."

Members of Tempe City Council are to move forward with identifying key staff members to determine the center's feasibility. 

Getting the CAARE Center is still a work in progress, but there is support

More than 52,000 people have signed a petition to create the CAARE Center and reimburse a survivor who came forward last semester. Campus groups like March for Our Lives ASU, Omega Phi Alpha, Kappa Tau Kappa, Theta Xi, True Crime Devils and the National Council of Negro Women at ASU have made public statements in support of the proposal. 

Outreach and engagement in gaining more support for the CAARE Center's proposal have mainly taken place over social media, Ali said. Since a high-profile case was made public last semester, "it's meant that ASU and their wrongdoings have actually been illuminated," she said. 

Working with SDASA, the Women's Coalition has made survivor stories known using hashtags and the "Badass Women's March," which members of both organizations said has made the community at large more aware of the prevalence of sexual violence at ASU.

"We acknowledge sexual violence," Qureshi said. "It primarily affects women, it does affect a lot of other people. ... But the way it affects women, to stop us, to oppress us, to subjugate us, to make us submit — is where we as a Women's Coalition come in and that is where we support.

"It has a long history, and rape has been used to keep women in check," Qureshi said. "ASU must not forget that and ASU must not whitewash its history. It must not be taken out of context — rape is a women's problem."

Advocating for the center has been difficult, advocates said. The University continues to say resources are available but students don't believe they're efficient or the right kind of support. Qureshi said it's important activists remember ASU is an institution with teams of lawyers and public relations professionals. 

"This is not a conspiracy theory or something, saying ASU protects rapists or ASU has a prevalent rape culture. It's not something students just cooked up," Qureshi said. "This is an organized effort."

And in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are different kinds of hurdles. 

"In a lot of ways, COVID has been able to become sort of like an excuse for what (ASU is) not able to set our money aside for or what we're not able to spend our money on," Ali said. "To hear that because we're trying to cut costs, this would not be something, that's really disheartening. But it's not going to stop our advocacy."

The Women's Coalition and SDASA plan to keep pushing for the proposal to be adopted. 

"ASU's just really powerful," Qureshi said. "We have had so much struggle, and we're trying our best. But every time there's a roadblock. Every single time."


Reach the reporters at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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