On the heels of an explosion in deaths at Planned Parenthood, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) announced Thursday that it will hire a dedicated health and medical director to oversee and coordinate the organization’s efforts to combat sexual assault and abuse.
The WHI also will hire five more full-time staff members to help run the organization as well as expand its outreach efforts to prevent, respond to, and resolve sexual assault.
The group’s President and CEO, Margaret Sullivan, said the organization will also add more community-based organizations that have historically been underrepresented in health care.
“Our mission at WHI is to be a force for change, and to empower people who need our help, to get the care they need, to empower their communities, and make it safer for them to live their lives,” Sullivan said in a statement.
“As we move into the next decade, we’re going to be investing in more resources to help women who are at risk of sexual assault, and we will also continue to be building out our services and programs to support survivors, to build a safer world, and in the process, to provide an opportunity for everyone to have the best health care possible.”
The announcement comes after a national wave of sexual assaults at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and other clinics across the country in recent months.
The attacks targeted people of color, and many victims had been working in the health care field as nurses or physicians.
Sullivan and WHI co-founder and CEO Melissa K. Anderson said the group’s efforts will include working to provide mental health care, as well.
“In addition to supporting the care of survivors of sexual violence, we are also working to support the families of sexual assaulted women and their loved ones who have experienced trauma and the families and survivors who have been impacted by sexual assault,” Sullivan and Anderson said.
WHI has expanded its mental health services to include services that include a rape kit and crisis intervention.
“Our focus will continue to remain on providing mental health support to survivors and their families, and our mental health resources will continue their work in a comprehensive way,” they added.
Anderson added that the group has launched a pilot program to offer free mental health counseling to students and their parents.
“This pilot will allow WHI students to get access to a mental health counselor, and will allow parents to get free counseling to help ensure that their children feel safe in school and in their homes,” Anderson said in the statement.
Sullivan said the WHI’s efforts in the field will be supported by a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The grants will also go toward a new $50 million fund to support community health centers that are struggling with high sexual assault rates.
WHIs focus on sexual assault has drawn national attention, with President Donald Trump declaring on Twitter that he wants to “build a country where sexual assault is taken seriously, where sexual violence is taken as seriously as it should be.”
In addition to the WHIs efforts, WHI announced in January that it would launch a $500 million program to support health centers, clinics, and other health care providers to provide health and mental health training to help them respond to sexual assault crises.
Sullivan emphasized that the WHi will also work to expand its community outreach efforts, including offering support to community leaders who have faced violence.
“We are committed to working with all of our communities to support them in making changes to their lives, including addressing the root causes of violence,” she said.
“The WHI will also make the work of survivors a priority.
We will support survivors who need assistance in healing from the trauma of their abuse and in changing their lives.”