MIT has selected four nonprofits that serve survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation to receive gifts totaling $850,000. This is the amount that convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein donated to the Institute between 2002 and 2017, as determined by a recently completed review.
Following several months of research and deliberation, MIT’s Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response (CSMPR) identified the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center; the EVA Center; My Life My Choice; and the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts’ Domestic and Sexual Violence Project as the recommended recipients of the Institute’s gifts. MIT President L. Rafael Reif has accepted the recommendation. All four organizations include the City of Cambridge in their areas of service.
The gifts fulfill a pledge MIT made following revelations that the Institute had accepted donations from Epstein. In an Aug. 22 letter, President Reif wrote that MIT would donate an amount equal to the funds the Institute received from Epstein to organizations that support survivors of sexual abuse. At President Reif’s request, the 29-member CSMPR, which includes MIT students, faculty, and staff, several of whom work closely with survivors of sexual abuse, agreed to evaluate organizations for the donations and advise him.
Leslie Kolodziejski, chair of the committee and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, says, “I’m thrilled for these four organizations to be receiving this money, because each and every one of them is doing incredible work to support victims of sexual abuse.”
The committee focused much of its work on identifying the values that should guide its decision making, consistent with the values of MIT, and looked to strike a balance between both well-established organizations and burgeoning ones. It started with 36 potential recipient organizations and made an initial assessment that 18 of these satisfied all the basic guidelines to meet its charge. Kolodziejski says the committee conducted in-depth research on the 18 organizations, compiling the same set of data on each. Ultimately, four stood out and drew attendees’ unanimous support at the final committee meeting.
“We are honored to help advance the vital missions of these outstanding nonprofits focused on ending sexual violence,” says President Reif. “I am deeply grateful to Professor Kolodziejski and all of CSMPR for agreeing to take on an assignment of such significance for our community. I was struck by CSMPR’s thoroughness and care in choosing these organizations, and we can all take comfort in knowing that, thanks to the committee’s guidance, these donations will support organizations making a direct difference in the lives of survivors. What’s more, at CSMPR’s suggestion, Community Giving at MIT has added the organizations to its website, to make it easy for members of the MIT community to support the nonprofits’ work as well.”
The four organizations selected are:
Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC)
Founded by survivors of sexual violence, BARCC has a mission to end sexual violence by creating response and prevention programs based on research and learning from 45 years of direct service experience. The organization serves 29 cities and towns in the greater Boston area, with a population of 4.6 million, through offices in Boston, Cambridge, and Waltham. It cares for survivors as young as 12 years old, including women, men, members of the LGBTQ community, those with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, people of any immigration status, and incarcerated people. In its recommendation to President Reif, the committee said that BARCC is “one of our strongest local organizations that works tirelessly to serve our community.”
Gina Scaramella, the director of BARCC, says, “It is meaningful to us that this gift comes as a result of a recommendation from MIT community members who are both familiar with our work and also invested in finding ways to reduce and prevent sexual violence. Our work focuses on providing survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse the highest quality services needed for their healing, and advocating for systems change that will prevent acts of sexual violence from occurring in the first place. This gift from MIT will support that work.”
The EVA Center
The center, whose title stands for Education, Vision and Advocacy, is led by survivors and works to provide comprehensive services to women exploited by sex trafficking, with a mission to eradicate systems of prostitution and to create an equitable world where no one is bought and sold. A program of Casa Myrna, it provides both short- and long-term safe housing, mentorship, exit plans, health care, and emergency funds to support victims. The committee noted that the organization has an important role in serving low-income communities and communities of color.
“We are a program that was founded by a survivor, and we not only provide direct services for women impacted by a harmful sex trade but we work to end sexual exploitation through policies and legislation changes,” says Cherie Jimenez, director of the EVA Center. “We will use some of these funds for our solidarity fund that goes directly to women so they can restart their lives. The majority of our referrals at the center are young women at a point of crisis, and the availability of effective emergency accommodation [through] our safe home program makes a critical difference.”
Given the gift’s genesis, she says “it’s a bittersweet donation, but we appreciate MIT’s commitment to investigating and redirecting these funds directly to programs that address commercial sexual exploitation. We will collectively put some thought into how we could use these funds to further our mission and have the most impact for the women that come through our programs, and to create greater awareness and prevention, as an untold number of women and girls suffered greatly under the hands of Epstein.”
My Life My Choice
My Life My Choice focuses on the sexual exploitation of children and works to empower young people to be their own agents of change. Based in Boston, it has served over 500 survivors since its founding in 2002. It offers intensive survivor-led multidisciplinary support to victims, as well as a research-based curriculum to teach strategic prevention-based solutions, mentorship to develop coping skills, and advocacy to support vulnerable youth. The mission of My Life My Choice is to prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of adolescents through survivor-led programs that educate and empower youth to find their voice and create a positive life path. The committee noted that this nationally acclaimed group created the first comprehensive prevention curriculum in the U.S.
Lisa Goldblatt Grace, director of My Life My Choice, says, “We thank MIT for directing these funds to be used in the fight to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children. These funds will be used immediately by our survivor-led program in our work locally and nationally to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable girls and to intervene on behalf of youth of all genders who have experienced this egregious form of violence and degradation.”
The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts
Through its Domestic and Sexual Violence Project, this Roxbury-based organization focuses on the barriers that impede victims and survivors from accessing services, and on safety and economic empowerment. It provides education and training to deal with abusive actions, housing resources, and physical and mental health care as well as spiritual counseling. Support for this program will enable expanded services for housing and for relocation assistance for victims and families to escape abusive situations. The committee noted that this organization is based in an underserved African-American community and is increasingly serving an immigrant population, and will benefit from additional financial resources.
On behalf of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and its board of directors, Consultant President/CEO J. Keith Motley says that the organization is “elated to receive a gift from a prestigious institution like MIT to support the efforts of the Domestic and Sexual Violence Project led by Reverend Traci Jackson Antoine. The generous donation will help to broaden the scope of our work and enhance our existing services provided to victims and survivors in Boston’s underserved community.”
The four organizations will be able to use these one-time donations over a period of time as needed, and to use their discretion in the allocation of the resources.
Committee chair Kolodziejski explains that the group received suggestions from the community and members of the committee, and solicitations from external organizations. Every single one was considered. “We took it extremely seriously. We put forth a lot of effort that was very thoughtful, and very considerate,” she says.
Kelley Adams, director of MIT’s Violence Prevention and Response program and a member of the committee, says that the many organizations that the group studied as potential beneficiaries “all do amazing and beneficial work for their respective communities,” but not all were as directly focused on the issues of sexual abuse and trafficking that these donations were intended to address. The group also made a point of selecting some organizations that are specifically providing services to underserved communities. “Each organization plays a significant role in addressing crucial community needs, which made it a hard decision,” she says.
She adds, “This money is important, and it gives us an opportunity to do something meaningful and positive in the interest of supporting survivors.”