By LAURA TAYLOR
After receiving a grant from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, the University of Mary Washington hired Jaime Opanashuk to be the new victim advocate.
Prior to moving to Fredericksburg, Opanashuk was a United States Probation Officer. Opanashuk has been either a victim’s advocate or a probation/parole officer throughout her entire career.
“As a probation officer, I supervised offenders to increase survivor/community safety,” said Opanashuk. “As UMW’s confidential advocate, my role is to provide services directly to survivors of domestic violence, stalking and relationship abuse so they can make informed and empowered decisions for themselves. However, my motivation in each role was the same: Increase community/victim safety and support victims of crime.”
In her role as victim advocate, Opanashuk is a confidential resource for students who are dealing with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted or are in an unhealthy relationship. When a student needs more information about their situation, Opanashuk is the person they go to. The victim advocate is exempt from being required to report incidents to Title IX.
Explaining legal rights, providing emotional support, and exploring options for services both on and off campus are part of Opanashuk’s role as the victim advocate. Promoting her services are not explicitly in the job description, but Opanashuk works to get the word out to students who may need support and an advocate.
“I may contact organizations, such as law enforcement, medical or Title IX at the student’s direction,” said Opanashuk. “I can also take the time to accompany a student to medical and legal proceedings.”
Opanahuk’s goal as victim advocate is to ensure that students receive support and options throughout their healing process while supporting the university’s goal to foster an environment where students are not stigmatized for speaking out about sexual and dating violence.
The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN, summarizes the importance of supporting survivors in a statement that reads “Sexual violence can have psychological, emotional and physical effects on a survivor. These effects aren’t always easy to deal with, but with the right help and support they can be managed. Learning more can help you find the best form of care to begin the healing process.”
According to various anti sexual assault organizations, the national statistics reveal that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. About 44 percent of all students have experienced some form of relationship abuse by the time they graduate.
Marissa Miller, Interim Title IX Coordinator, is enthusiastic about having Opanashuk as victim advocate.
“We are excited for the community to continue to learn more about our victim advocate,” said Miller.
Dr. Laura Wilson, the chair of the Committee on Sexual Assault, was unable to comment on the staff addition in time for publication. The UMW Committee on Sexaul Assault was formed as part of the Task Force against sexual assault during President Hurley’s term. Currently, the committee reviews the best practices related to sexual assault on college campuses and works to update the list of priorities with an eye toward continuing the prevention and intervention processes of sexual assault crimes.
Opanashuk works at the Talley Center for Counseling Services and at the off campus agencies RCASA and Empowerhouse. Students can stop by to schedule an appointment or call (540)-654-1053.