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Member Spotlight

The Member Spotlight profiles the work and accomplishments of National Center for Victims of Crime members.


The Member Spotlight is on . . .



Sexual Assault Services 

Connie Kirkland

Director

George Mason University 

Sexual Assault Services

Fairfax, Virginia

703-993-4364

ckirklan@gmu.edu

National Center for Victims of Crime member since 1993


Tell us about your work.

I have worked with crime victims for over 35 years as an advocate in a police department, a prosecutor's office, and with free-standing programs. Currently, I am Director of George Mason University's Sexual Assault Services (SAS). George Mason is composed of 33,000 students, and is the largest university in Virginia. It is located near Washington, DC, in Fairfax, Virginia, with smaller campuses in Arlington County and Prince William County.  

Since 1993, SAS has operated as one of the few free-standing campus offices serving victims of sexual assault, stalking, and dating/partner violence. SAS is committed to providing free direct services for anyone impacted by sexual assault, stalking, or dating/partner violence, including survivors, their families, significant others, and friends. We are here for any survivor -- regardless of age, ability, color, gender, race, or orientation. SAS also provides classroom education when requested and conducts university-wide outreach through several initiatives. These initiatives include activities during Turn Off the Violence Week (such as Take Back The Night, Survivor Space, and The Clothesline Project); Healthy Relationship Week (during which we host The Vagina Monologues, Healthy Relationship activities, and forums); and Crime Victims' Rights Week (during which we host informational forums and a 5K Victims' Rights Run/Walk). The goal of these initiatives is to create a safe and healthy campus for all.

Because our program is so unique, we are often called upon by other campuses across the country to share our expertise.

Is there an innovation in your program that can be replicated in other communities?

Sponsoring the production of The Vagina Monologues yearly for the past 12 years has enabled us to establish and oversee the Mason Victims of Violence Fund. This account is used to pay for the expenses victims/survivors we serve incur as a result of their victimization. For example, the Fund helps cover the cost of medical exams or follow-up at our Student Health Center, for moving vans to leave an abusive partner, or for the installation of motion detector lighting for stalking victims. We are very proud of having these funds available so that crime victims on our campus do not bear any financial damages due to the crime.

We also operate a three-tiered Peer Support Program composed of students who serve as peer educators, companions, and advocates. After undergoing a three-day training program, peer advocates staff our 24-hour cell phone, accompany student victims to police departments or medical appointments, or staff SASOnline, a free and confidential online support service established in 2009. The Peer Support Program effectively uses student and staff volunteers who play an integral role in our response to crime on campus. The peers are vital to the comprehensive services we are able to offer student victims at George Mason University.

What have you learned from working with crime victims?

All crime victims need to be heard, need to be treated with the utmost dignity, and need to realize that they can return to their normal functioning. And I have been happy through the years to make that happen for the many victims I have worked with.

What do you think are the most pressing needs of victims of crime?

Being heard in the justice system and being believed by the justice system still remains a great obstacle to overcome. Victims want to hold their perpetrators accountable and the justice system must be able to make that happen.

What do you think are the most pressing needs of those who work with victims of crime?

Being a strong, centered person is absolutely crucial for every person who works with victims of crime, especially trauma victims. In addition to personal strength, to be effective everyone needs adequate training, time to learn about crime victims, and time away from working with victims. The greatest asset a helper can have is the ability to concentrate 100% on each client. 

Why are you a National Center for Victims of Crime member?

Being a member of the National Center for Victims of Crime keeps me informed of victim-related news, trends, legislation, new projects and initiatives, and also allows me to incorporate what is best into my own work.