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UTC partners to offer Victim Assistance Academy

UTC recently partnered with the Tennessee State Coalition Against Domestic And Sexual Violence to offer the first ever Tennessee State Victim Assistance Academy, which provided basic training to victims advocates, social workers, paralegals, and university and emergency room personnel. The week-long academy was held on the UTC campus.

“The academy cost $350 to attend, the information was worth over $1 million, and the networking was priceless,” said Robin Brewer, Court Advocate, Crisis and Homeless Prevention Services for the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults in Chattanooga.

Dr. Helen Eigenberg

Presenters covered a variety of topics including the criminal justice system, victims’ vompensation, domestic violence, sexual assault, child victimization, elder abuse, rural victims, hate crimes, collaboration, and cultural competency.

Dr. Helen Eigenberg, head of the Department of Criminal Justice at UTC, was instrumental in the planning and presentation of the academy. She said the rights of offenders are often known to the public.

“In the case of the victim, there is not necessarily someone who advocates for you,” Eigenberg said.

Eigenberg said Chancellor Roger Brown at UTC has launched an initiative that includes responding to victims on and off campus. The Chancellor’s Office supported several university personnel to attend the academy.

One of the University attendees was Jeff Burgin, Associate Dean of Students and Director Multicultural Affairs. He said because the theme of the academy mostly focused on violence against women, he feels it is important for him to work with male students to try and prevent violence on campus.

“We have a role as men to speak out against violence,” Burgin said. “I want to get involved with more leadership training for young men on campus. I want to target fraternities specifically.”

Several criminal justice majors attended the conference, including Rachel Hiatt, a mental health child and adolescent caseworker at Fortwood Center. She is pursuing Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice at UTC.

“I loved it,” Hiatt said. “It was one of the most amazing things I ever experienced—this gathering of like-minded people was very empowering.”

Hiatt said she wished everyone had the opportunity to take this kind of course.

“I have learned to analyze the way I talk to people, especially my clients. I should not impose questions like ‘What if you…?’ or ‘Well, did you…?’ I am going to try not to placate someone in any situation,” Hiatt said.

The domestic violence session of the academy was presented by Kathy England Walsh, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She has successfully advocated for more than 100 new laws to improve safety for women and children victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault in Tennessee. From 1988 to 2005, Walsh worked on behalf of the coalition to make the penalty for spousal rape the same as it is for non spousal rape in Tennessee.

“I always describe my method as gentle pressure relentlessly applied,” said Walsh. “Social change does not happen overnight.”

For more information about this year’s academy or plans for next year’s academy, contact Helen Eigenberg.

July 28, 2006

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