Northern Arizona University and Victim-Witness Services for Coconino County announced a new partnership to support members of the university community who experience sexual assault and other forms of gender violence. The collaboration brings a full-time advocate to campus to engage in outreach and support efforts.

“NAU is committed to ending sexual assault and maintaining a safe working and learning environment for every member of our Lumberjack family,” said NAU President Rita Cheng. “This collaboration is a positive step forward in our response to sexual assault and enhances the resources our staff currently provide to our university community.”

Pam Heinonen, director of NAU’s Equity and Access Office, said the university is “constantly evaluating and improving our efforts to respond to these situations.” As NAU’s Title IX coordinator, Heinonen leads the university’s efforts with regard to gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, sexual assault and other forms of gender violence.

“This new partnership allows Victim-Witness Services to expand its experience and support to students within the context of the university environment,” she said. “The advocate will be able to provide a confidential place for victims to learn about university and community resources as well as explain administrative options available through the university.”

Kristen Ribich will serve as the advocate for Victim-Witness at NAU and lead outreach and support on the Flagstaff campus. Services are available in room 1513 in the Health and Learning Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Wednesday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Ribich also can be reached at (928) 523-2225 or kribich@coconino.az.gov.

“Victim-Witness Services has worked cooperatively with the university for many years, but this agreement will allow even greater collaboration between the community and the university,” said Myra Ferell-Womochil, executive director of Victim-Witness.

The response of higher education to sexual assault and other forms of gender violence on college campuses has been at the forefront of a national discussion led by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The concept of a partnership between higher education and victim’s advocates was highlighted in the first report of the White House Task Force Not Alone report as a key best practice for colleges and universities. Heinonen said the agreement between Victim-Witness Services and NAU is unique because it goes beyond the Office for Civil Rights recommendations with the advocate position serving any member of the campus community who has been a victim or witness of any form of crime or crisis.