Cassidy Johnson, UNC’s gender violence services coordinator, started on June 2.
Her position is brand new at UNC and is funded by a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women through the U.S. Department of Justice.
“(Sexual assault survivors) can come to me and I can provide a safe space for them to talk,” Johnson said. “I can link them to other support organizations and services.”
Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator Bob Pleasants led the group that applied for the grant one year after the federal government mandated that federally funded universities reform their sexual policies to make resources more accessible. Johnson’s position was designed one year before the University was hit with the first of three ongoing federal investigations into alleged mishandling of sexual assault cases.
Johnson said her position is unique primarily because of the degree of confidentiality she is able to promise to students. Resident advisers and other University employees are required under federal law to report any instance of sexual assault they learn of, even if a student shares it confidentially.
Christi Hurt, director of the Carolina Women’s Center, said Johnson’s focus on interpersonal violence is especially valuable to students who don’t know their options.
Johnson said the hardest part of her job is dealing with her concern about the safety of students who confide in her.
“It’s not my job to be a detective,” she said. “If someone leaves me with the impression that they’re not safe, I worry.”
She is only allowed to break confidentiality if she receives reports of students endangering themselves or others or of child or elderly abuse.
Alban Foulser, co-chairwoman of Project Dinah — a student club focused on interpersonal violence prevention — said Johnson is crucial for students who don’t know all of their options.
“And now the University is letting them know all their options and making sure they know that, if they tell people about their experience, it will be confidential,” Foulser said.
Johnson said because her job is so survivor-centered, she escapes the challenge of balancing the survivor’s needs with the accused’s rights.
“That’s the line that (UNC) has to walk every day,” she said.
“My job is making sure the survivor’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs are met ... I can be a little bit more removed from the ‘he said/she said.’”
Staff Writer Kristen Chung contributed reporting.