Earlier this month, community leaders collaborated to lend support and solidarity at the Alachua County Victim Services & Rape Crisis Center’s second annual community outreach meeting.
Brittany Coleman, a victim advocate counselor with Gainesville Police and the county’s crisis center, said feedback from participants will be used to strengthen services for victims of sexual assault.
Representatives from GPD, Gainesville public schools, the UF Counseling & Wellness Center and Alachua County Animal Services all attended the July 20 meeting, held in the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County’s Thomas Coward Auditorium, located at 224 SE 24thSt.
Coleman said the center wishes to partner with agencies such as animal services so that victims are able to exit a difficult domestic situation without leaving an animal behind.
“I think the more variety you can have in a conversation, the better,” Coleman said.
GPD works with several agencies in Gainesville to provide necessary services in high-risk cases by providing external resources for victims, she said.
Coleman said the center’s goal is to effectively promote those services while also holding outreach meetings to understand what the organization is doing well and how it can improve.
Sophia Eikenberry, a UF neurobiological sciences sophomore and sexual assault survivor, was one of about 20 to attend the meeting. Eikenberry said because UF’s support services are focused on prevention, she feels that real survivors of sexual assault can be left out.
Eikenberry, 19, who is determined to take greater action for survivors in the community, said her mother sent her a link about the outreach meeting and decided to go to see what resources she could find.
“I didn’t know where to start,” Eikenberry said. “So I started brainstorming ideas just reflecting on my experiences.”
Eventually Eikenberry said she had the idea to introduce a new measure to protect sexual assault survivors at UF. The measure would require all professors to include Title IX actions in their course syllabi in addition to listing contact information for Title IX coordinators.
“Title IX guarantees that the university has to take action and that will hopefully get more of a response from students,” she said.
Eikenberry said at the outreach meeting, she made two contacts who will help implement her idea.
Nick McMillen, who volunteers at the center by providing legal and medical options to victims who call the 24/7 hotline, said although he doesn’t follow up with any of the victims who call, the outreach meeting gave him a better idea as to how to support survivors.
“I feel what all victims need is that ally, they need someone to believe them, and that’s the first mantra … always believe the victim,” he said.
McMillen, who has a daughter in sixth grade, said he was encouraged when someone proposed implementing sexual assault prevention in the middle and high schools.
“I am going to pursue that because I feel it is very important,” he said.
Coleman, who frequently works with GPD officers in the criminal investigations division, agreed with McMillen’s idea.
“I think the schools were one of the big ideas that came out of the meeting,” she said.