LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 22, 2022) — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the University of Kentucky Police Department (UKPD) would like to remind the campus community about the resources it offers special victims.
Led by Lt. Andy Eilertson, UKPD created the Special Victims Unit (SVU) in 2020, investigating incidents of sexual assault and abuse, relationship violence, stalking and harassment that occur on UK property. The SVU team provides compassionate support services to survivors of interpersonal violence while removing barriers of reporting, in addition to holding offenders accountable by maintaining police services.
One important function of the SVU is outreach. The SVU works with campus partners like the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center and Counseling Center, in the UK Office for Student Success.
“It is important the UK campus community knows we are here and what resources we provide, in addition to feeling comfortable talking to us,” said Eilertson. She said her goals are to ultimately serve and educate while eliminating the barriers and concerns of reporting.
“I was hoping I would end up in SVU,” said Eilertson. “This unit is something I knew was needed. Now looking back a year later, I wonder what we did without it.”
Eilertson looks forward to the continued growth and development of SVU. She is happy to be part of a unit where more personalized contacts with law enforcement are available.
SVU’s educational outreach includes informing the community of the role they have in providing victims’ rights, information on next steps as it relates to law enforcement options and providing advocacy options in partnership with campus centers such as the Counseling Center, Greenhouse 17, Title IX Office and VIP Center.
“UKPD serves the UK community in several capacities,” said UK Police Chief Joe Monroe. “At the core of the Special Victims Unit is our commitment to build a foundation of trust and compassion. Our hope is that it continues to provide a holistic sense of security to victims — our first priority.”
There are currently two detectives serving on the SVU, Det. Hannah Clendenin and Det. Tristan Kidd. According to Clendenin, with UKPD and SVU, there are “endless opportunities” to attend training, network across the country and learn about resources specific to Kentucky.
“The department puts emphasis on training to make sure this unit is prepared and can operate at the highest level,” said Clendenin. “As a former student here at UK, and now a detective with UKPD, I know this unit is needed.”
Kidd is new to the unit as of March 2022.
“What drew me to this role was the clear need for services. I thought it was crucial to help remove the barriers survivors face when they choose to report. Survivors need a team in this environment who understand, and we owe it to them to give the highest quality of work, to validate their experience and help them know they did the right thing in choosing to report to us,” said Kidd.
Kidd takes a lot of care in speaking to victims and pays attention in how he communicates and tries to build confidence in the survivor to know that he is going to be a point of contact for them.
Leigh Koetsch, special victims advocate, came to the team in 2021 after a career in community advocacy.
“It is exciting and important to be part of building something that did not exist before — an opportunity to prioritize the survivor experience and provide the help they need. There is much about the reporting process that we cannot control, but it is fulfilling when I’m able to provide a service or get something done for the survivor to make their life easier,” said Koetsch.
This type of assistance is what helps the SVU build relationships with the community. “We are here as a resource for you whether you have a case or not,” said Koetsch.
The unit’s goal is to be involved, especially in the education of the community. Topics include what the reporting process entails, what is sexual assault or abuse and what the legal options are for victims. Additionally, individuals can always talk to representatives of the SVU and use it as a resource if they are not comfortable moving forward with an investigation. The SVU often provides survivors with support and resources without taking legal steps.
“I want us to be engrained in the UK community,” said Eilertson. “Our goal is to ensure everyone on campus knows we are here, what that means and what resources and services we can provide.”
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.