Many people in Missoula want to help shut down sexual violence, but they need a point person to direct them.

“They really want to do something about it, but they need guidance. They don’t know where to start. And we can do that if we have capacity,” said Kelly McGuire, with the Missoula City-County Department of Grants and Community Programs.

On Wednesday at a Missoula City Council committee meeting, Councilman Jon Wilkins gave some extra air time to a request that the city put $54,406 into its budget for a “healthy relationships coordinator.” Wilkins is chairman of the Public Safety and Health Committee, and said the topic is a clear matter of public safety.

“We should show strong support for this, and that’s why I brought it to the committee’s attention,” Wilkins said.

In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the way University of Montana campus police, the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office handle sexual assault crimes, and shortly after, the U.S. Department of Education began an investigation into a harassment complaint against members of the UM football team.

The investigations are still under way, but in response to the reports of sexual violence, UM and the city have started outreach and awareness programs. UM now requires all students to take a tutorial about preventing sexual assault, for one, and the city encourages victims to call 9-1-1.

Last year at the request of Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, the council added $7,000 to the city budget for a campaign to reach bystanders who can help intervene before a sexual assault takes place.

On Wednesday, Copple said the issue is close to her heart. YWCA Missoula had to cut an employee who used to work in the schools, and she supports funding a full-time person whose job would include education.

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In a presentation to council members, McGuire and grants administrator Shantelle Gaynor explained the main responsibilities of the position aimed at violence prevention. McGuire currently works as a coordinator in rural parts of the county, and the new job would be a coordinator to focus inside the city limits on the following:

• Working with schools, the faith community and the larger community to coordinate workshops, adopt curriculum, develop programs, and serve as a liaison to UM.

• Planning with the county coordinator to develop a “seamless prevention strategy,” and providing technical assistance to other communities.

• Running a bystander intervention campaign, “Make Your Move,” through steering committees, volunteer recruitment and training, and information tables at events. The campaign received one-time funding last year from a variety of sources.

McGuire said targeting bystanders as opposed to potential victims or perpetrators has been shown to be effective, and the work Missoula is doing is innovative and groundbreaking. But continuing the work – and not missing opportunities to tap the community’s energy and support – requires coordination.

The $54,406 would go toward an $18.55 per hour salary, fringe benefits and a computer and work station for the “healthy relationships project” of the department. Other related programs are the Crime Victim Advocates Program, JUST Response, which coordinates with the criminal justice system, and Community Partnerships, which works with local organizations.

Wilkins said it’s unusual to bring a budget item forward the way he did, but he wants to see the city support violence prevention with more than just court surcharges. Many people in the community are working on prevention, and he believes having one person coordinate efforts will save money in the long run.

“It would cut down on duplications and make it more effective,” Wilkins said.

Councilman Bob Jaffe said he would like to see the county contribute to the position as well, and Councilman Adam Hertz agreed. Gaynor, however, said the county already contributes to the “relationship violence program.”

Mayor John Engen plans to present his budget to the council on April 10, and council president Marilyn Marler said this funding request and other budget items will be considered in upcoming Budget Committee of the Whole meetings.

She questioned whether the coordinator should work inside government or be better placed at an agency such as the YWCA, but said she understands the need to have a point person and believes the program directed at bystanders has been effective.

“I’ve been really impressed with the Make Your Move bystander campaign,” Marler said.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

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Reporter for the Missoulian