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The Dartmouth
May 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

N.H. government creates new sexual assault position

A new position in the New Hampshire Department of Justice has been created to assist colleges and universities located in the state to respond to sexual violence on campuses. The position is currently temporary and funded through June 30 of this year, with the potential to be extended.

The Department of Justice’s executive council, which approved the position at a Feb. 11 meeting, allocated a $72,216 grant to further support the department’s sexual assault outreach programs.

According to the New Hampshire Department of State’s website, the sexual assault program specialist will be responsible for helping colleges and universities develop practices to ensure they operate in compliance with federal and state mandates, such as Title IX and the Clery Act. The position will also work to strengthen first responder training and promote collaboration between crisis centers like WISE, the police and individual colleges and universities.

Heather Lindkvist, the College’s Title IX and Clery Act compliance officer, said that the position will likely serve as a coordinator for all colleges and universities in the state. She said that it will also bring together the various sexual violence response teams and resource groups throughout the state, which often include the input of colleges and universities.

The Department of Justice provides grants to facilitate technical training and outreach to respond to sexual violence, Lindkvist said. The position and grant approved by the executive council aim to enhance resources and services provided by higher educational institutions, including public universities, community colleges and technical and private institutions.

Lindkvist added that addressing the differing needs of this diverse group would be one of the primary duties expected of the position.

“Developing programs that will meet the needs of all those constituencies is important,” Lindkvist said. “What they’re really trying to do at the state level is what we’re supposed to at the school level, such as training for investigators and making sure anyone involved in the Title IX process is well informed.”

Lindkvist said she expects whoever assumes the position will interact with the College by working closely both with her and staff at the health promotion and wellness office. The position, however, will likely work at an organizational and institutional level rather than take an “on-the-ground” approach at individual schools, she added.

Laura Dunn, executive director and founder of advocacy group SurvJustice, expressed doubt at the necessity and efficiency of the position.

While there is nothing wrong with the position’s creation, Dunn said, other state initiatives such as developing policy combating sexual assault and reinforcing compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act are likely more effective at addressing the issue.

Dunn cited the working group assembled by the State University of New York last year, which brought together sexual assault experts and advocates over a period of 60 days to address issues of resources and policy, as an example of a better approach. She added that the group produced a uniform policy on sexual assault with no ongoing costs.

“Having a uniform policy has an appeal, because students are protected in the same way regardless of where they choose to go to school,” Dunn said.

Additionally, Dunn said, a uniform policy will also save money in the long run, as the new position would require ongoing investments in the position’s salary and benefits.

She added that the Department of Justice’s approach would require an individual to have a broad range of experiences to be best qualified for the job, citing a need for a strong law background.

“Just because you’ve worked for a school and have been a victim advocate doesn’t mean you have the prerequisite experience to ensure compliance with federal law,” Dunn said.

Tori Nevel ’16, chair of the Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, said that she thought the position would greatly benefit all institutions in the state and alleviate the resource gap between public and private schools. Nevel also said that she hopes the position will help resolve any ambiguities surrounding certain aspects of Title IX.

“Title IX can be hard to enforce in a lot of ways,” Nevel said. “It states that men and women must have equal opportunity in higher education, but what does that mean in practice?”

Having a point person in this position, Nevel said, would make it easier to answer all the questions Dartmouth and other New Hampshire institutions have about compliance with Title IX.