Assault victims’ advocate program to expand from Amherst to Northampton
AMHERST — For two years, the Amherst and University of Massachusetts police departments have shared a full-time civilian advocate who assists victims of domestic and sexual assaults.
With the receipt of a $300,000 award from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, this advocacy will continue at both Amherst departments, and Northampton will soon have its own advocate working two days a week.
“Police officers have really come to value the work our advocate can do with domestic and sexual violence issues,” said Amherst Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen, pointing out that the advocate gets involved in cases immediately.
UMass Deputy Police Chief Patrick Archbald said the position creates a bridge between the departments and attempts to reach those who may be overlooked. “It’s been a wonderful collaboration between the two departments, a really nice addition to the work we do in preventing and responding to domestic incidents,” he said.
Rebecca Lockwood, associate director of the Center for Women & Community at UMass, agreed that the first grant, received two years ago, has provided strong support for survivors. “As a result of having the advocate, there is increased willingness for survivors to participate in the criminal justice system,” Lockwood said.
Ilana Gerjuoy, who is employed by the Center for Women & Community, is able to call survivors directly, meet with them at the police station and in court, and refer them to programs such as Safe Passage, Lockwood said.
Gundersen said Gerjuoy is needed especially for difficult, ongoing cases. “With Ilana, we don’t forget the needs of the survivor.”
Gundersen said Northampton has long wanted an advocate and, with its new police station, now has space. In Amherst, Gerjuoy has offices at both the Amherst and UMass police stations.
“With this funding, we hope to have more regional and collaborative approach to impact and reduce the cycle of violence against women,” Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said in a statement.
Each department will also receive training for officers who investigate domestic and sexual violence, including how to deal with survivors with mental health issues. There will also be outreach to underserved populations, such as immigrant communities, through the Center for New Americans. Outreach training includes municipal and school departments, Gundersen said, focused on such topics as workplace violence and stalking techniques.
The grant serves to coordinate the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team, which includes members of law enforcement, health care advocates and the Northwestern district attorney’s office. So far, Lockwood said, Gerjuoy has worked with 200 victims, or about 100 each year. “This has increased the respect our advocates have for the police departments and has increased the respect the police departments have for our advocates,” Lockwood said.
Archbald said he is grateful the program continues.
“We’re really appreciative of the work Amherst police did to write the grant. We’re pleased to go and put this money to good use.”