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New center helps those dealing with sexual harassment and violence

“What just happened?” “How did it happen?” “I’m so angry.” “I’m so scared.” “I feel so alone.”

Guilt, shame, and grief. These are just some of the complex feelings survivors of sexual violence experience, said Brandie Leach, the newly appointed assistant director of the Sexual Violence Advocacy and Support Center (SVAS) at Bridgewater State University. 

More than anything she wants survivors to know they are not alone, that there are people in place to help.  

Sexual violence is very isolating, you’re made to feel you’re the only one dealing with it, that no one will believe you,” she said. “We don’t want people to feel they are all by themselves.” 

SVAS is there, Leach said, to help survivors of all forms of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking. 

The center recently moved to a more centralized location in Tillinghast Hall, room 102. One of the key benefits of the new location is the privacy offered, something that was previously lacking in its former home in Weygand Hall.  

“Having this designated space creates elements of safety and confidentiality,” Leach said. “When folks come in, they are feeling vulnerable, and we don’t want them to feel physically exposed. It’s important to have this (new) location.” 

Helping survivors is something Leach has dedicated her career to.  

She got her start working in sexual violence advocacy when she served in the Army as her unit’s sexual assault representative. 

Leach not only educated soldiers about sexual harassment and assault but also supported those who came forward to make reports.  

After leaving the Army, Leach took time off to raise a family. When she returned to the workforce, she did so by volunteering as a rape crisis counselor in Upstate New York.

After moving her family to Rhode Island, she worked as a law enforcement advocate before transitioning into a non-clinical counseling role.  

Eventually, she found herself running a domestic violence shelter program and creating policies connected to domestic violence for the Rhode Island legislature.  

Leach looks to continue her work helping survivors and promoting sexual violence education at Bridgewater as assistant director of SVAS.

This job is an advocacy dream. With my background, to be able to transfer into higher education and provide survivor support as well as mentor the next generation in advocacy, it’s perfect for me,” she said.  

Reminding people that SVAS is on campus, with trained advocates and student-peers in place, is her top priority.

“Hopefully knowing that SVAS is here, we want survivors to tap into this support. You can’t do it alone. To have the most successful outcome you need someone helping you along the way,” Leach said.

 The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but students can also reach out online to submit a request for support.  

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