New advocate hopes to usher in new era

New Era: Molly Steffens-Herman speaking at an open forum in Carole Chapel. Washburn Univeristy chose Steffens-Herman to be a victim's advocate for the university.

Ryan Yowell

Washburn is in the process of hiring a victim’s advocate with the help of a grant from Victims of Crime Act.

Washburn received the grant from VOCA late last year and began searching for an advocate in early February.

“Hiring an advocate became an issue for Washburn last year, with students, faculty and staff all asking the administration to hire one,” said Kelly Erby, assistant history professor who is heading the hiring process.

Washburn is taking an innovative step forward with the hiring of a victim’s advocate, which will allow students who have experienced any form of crime on campus to confide in a trusted, professional individual.

“The great thing about the advocate is that, as much as possible, control stays with the victims,” Erby said.

Initially, two candidates were considered for the position. Each candidate was scheduled to host an open forum on campus, where they would discuss their suitability for the role. The first forum took place March 9 in Carole Chapel, with the second forum being cancelled due to the departure of the second candidate.

Washburn offers a unique environment as compared to larger schools, such as KU and K-State for a new advocate.

“This person is going to have to be proactive and outgoing and integrating into the campus community,” Erby said. “This person has to build trust.”

Trust is an essential factor for the new advocate. On top of trust, the advocate’s are required to have at least two years of experience serving sexual assault victims elsewhere, as most of their duties will consist of benefiting students affected by these types of crimes.

Molly Steffens-Herman, the candidate who spoke at the forum, looks to be a good fit for Washburn. Steffens-Herman’s resume includes serving as a victim’s advocate for the Center for Safety and Empowerment, as well as attaining her degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology at Washburn University.

Steffens-Herman was announced as the chosen candidate, with her starting date being the week after spring break. Having a well-qualified individual is sure to garner attention from students who have been victims of crime, though one of the biggest tasks for the new advocate will be student outreach. During the forum, this topic was discussed thoroughly. Erby believes outreach is crucial to increase students’ awareness.

“Evidence shows that when you have a confidential advocate where students can go and ask questions, the actual reporting of sexual assault goes up,” Erby said. “The promise of confidentiality is key for securing students’ trust.”

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.” Their website also states that up to 90% of those victims do not report the assault.This poses a problem nationally for all students, one that a victim’s advocate is sure to combat.

When asked what advice she would give to students who have been victims of crime, but have yet to speak out, Erby replied with the following.

“My advice is, it is not your fault and take care of yourself,” Erby said. “We want to help you.”

Faculty at Washburn are adamant in their proclamation that this university is student centered and Erby reaffirmed this message.

“Hiring an advocate really puts teeth behind that claim,” Erby said.