The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will no longer be working with Voices of Hope to provide counseling for victims of sexual assault and relationship violence.
UNL decided to not renew the contract with the organization in June, choosing instead to employ a full-time victim support advocate on campus to provide services.
According to assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs Josh Overocker, UNL is in the process of posting a job for a full-time campus advocate who will work 40 hours a week. A graduate assistant is currently serving as the victim support advocate at UNL, and they will continue to provide 20-25 hours of service per week. Ideally, the new hire would work alongside the graduate assistant by mid-September.
Previously, UNL provided around 10 hours of advocate services per week through Voices of Hope. Overocker said UNL’s move to add an on-campus advocate allows the university to provide more services.
“The partnership with Voices of Hope, while they’re a community-based organization and do a phenomenal job, our relationship with them only guarantees a limited number of hours for students,” he said. “This certainly was not a reflection on Voices at Hope at all, but more a natural progression of what we felt best served the needs of students.”
According to Voices of Hope Board President Meghan Davidson, the contract’s termination was a shock to the organization. According to Davidson, the program was seen as a model for similar programs at Nebraska Wesleyan University and Doane University.
“We have a lot of concern about the safety of students on campus…” said Davidson, also an associate professor of counseling psychology at UNL. “We are surprised about [the termination] and have not been told very much information what’s going to be happening moving forward.”
Voices of Hope victim advocate Marla Sohl is concerned about students feeling comfortable to speak to an on-campus advocate.
“It is difficult for victims who are on campus to trust that the person that they’re confiding in or disclosing to are confidential people,” she said. “If you partner with a rape crisis center whose entire job it is to be a confidential support system, then you can ensure that confidentiality for clients and the safety that they will feel to come forward.”
According to Overocker, several Big Ten schools, along with the University of Nebraska Omaha and the University of Nebraska at Kearney, have an on-campus advocate. Additionally, Overocker said a number of national organizations and Title IX administrators recommend an on-campus advocate for victims.
“This is kind of a nationally recognized benchmark that you would move towards offering expanded services like this,” Overocker said. “We’re trying to provide the best services we can.”