Creating a Safe Space for Sexual Assault Survivors

Posted on April 21, 2021
Joy Washington

The HEART Project, a new program to support sexual assault survivors and bring education and awareness to the campus and Mobile community, will launch at the University of South Alabama in June. data-lightbox='featured'
The HEART Project, a new program to support sexual assault survivors and bring education and awareness to the campus and Mobile community, will launch at the University of South Alabama in June.Download larger image

The University of South Alabama in June will launch the HEART Project, a new initiative with the mission of preventing sexual violence on campus and providing holistic clinical and recovery-oriented services to South students who have experienced sexual violence.

The HEART Project (Heart stands for “Health, Empowerment and Recovery from Trauma”) was developed to support undergraduate and graduate students who are sexual assault survivors but will also conduct education and outreach to the campus and the Mobile community with the goal of creating a culture of sexual respect.

The project was made possible through a nearly half-million-dollar grant the USA College of Nursing received from the Office of Justice Programs’ Office for Victims of Crimes in Fall 2020. A social media campaign will kick off this week to introduce the campus and overall community to the multidisciplinary team members and goals of the HEART Project. 

“As a multidisciplinary team, we are committed to supporting sexual assault survivors in recovering on their own terms,” said Nursing Professor Dr. Candice Selwyn, director for the HEART Project. “We want students to know if they have been sexually assaulted, it’s not their fault and the HEART Project is here to help them manage this traumatic experience.”

Selwyn said she and the multidisciplinary team of students, faculty and staff will be available to help student sexual assault survivors report these incidents, if the student wishes to make a report. Also, highly skilled Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANEs, will be available after the launch date at the USA Student Health Center to provide free medical forensic care. There will be advocacy through the USA Advocate Program, trauma-informed therapy through the Counseling and Testing Center, and assistance provided when needed by the USA Police Department.

Dr. Michael Mitchell, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, is one of the 22 members of the HEART Project Advisory Board, which consists of USA students, administration, faculty, staff and community partners. Mitchell said it’s important for students who are sexual assault survivors to know they are not alone. He added that as our society comes to a greater understanding of the impact of trauma in the lives of young people, projects like the HEART Project are increasingly important in the acknowledgment, understanding, and healing of that trauma. 

“Students will be able to take advantage of the resources of the HEART Project through care provided in the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program and by utilizing the campus advocacy program for victims of sexual assault,” Mitchell explained. “The program is also partnering with first-rate counseling services to aid on the journey to recovery.” 

 The Rape Crisis Center operated by Lifelines Counseling Services is one of the community collaborating partners with South Alabama. The agency provides 24-hour support service available to sexual assault survivors in the Mobile community.

“Each day we know and understand the value of our services to the community,” said Chandra Brown, executive director of the Lifelines Counseling Center and the Mobile Rape Crisis Center. “In Alabama, one in six women will be raped, and one in three women will have a violent incident occur in her lifetime. One in eight boys will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday. Our goal is to create a space of healing and hope for our community members in need, and we value the collaborative partnership with the University of South Alabama.” 

The USA Violence Prevention Alliance is also a campus collaborating partner with the HEART Project.

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