Violence on campus

Dear Alice,

What can I do to get some support after an act of violence happened on-campus at my school (or off-campus, but to a student here)? I feel a little lost right now...

Dear Reader, 

When an act of violence happens, it may feel like your world has turned upside down. There’s no right way to respond and it's okay to feel upset, overwhelmed, angry, anxious, or any other range of emotions as a result. In terms of what to do next, you may try contacting a mental health professional or health care provider to discuss how you’re feeling. It may also be helpful to familiarize yourself with on- and off-campus resources that can offer support as you continue to process what happened. 

If you choose to contact a mental health professional, consider making an appointment at your school’s counseling center. You can also search for an off-campus option using websites like Psychology Today. How to find a therapist in the Go Ask Alice! archives may also prove helpful in your search. Whichever option you choose, a mental health provider may begin your session by assessing your current needs and collaborating with you to determine an individualized treatment plan that fits your goals. There are many different types of treatment available that may help you work through the often difficult, confusing emotions that can stem from your experience. Working with a provider may be helpful in determining what type of intervention best fits your needs. 

Other on-campus departments may also offer support such as your school's public safety office. To find information for this office, consider searching the words ‘public safety’ on your school’s website to identify the phone number to call or text or to identify their physical address on your campus. Having this information could be useful if you're feeling unsafe or want to report suspicious activity. You may also want to see if any other safety-related services are available at your school. For example, some schools offer security escort services when traveling on and off campus. If the act was directed at you specifically, you may also choose to research whether your school has an office to support students who have experienced violence of any kind (e.g., sexual, physical, or emotional violence). They may have additional resources and can provide help to those who have experienced trauma. 

However, if you're uncomfortable seeking on-campus services, or can't find the services you want, there are a number of other off-campus options. For example, VictimConnect (855-484-2846) is a National Center for Victims of Crime program where anyone may anonymously call or chat online with victim assistance specialists. Individuals can learn more about their rights and options for moving forward. VictimConnect’s specialists are well-versed in the resources available to victims of crimes including sexual assault, physical violence, attempted homicide, domestic violence, hate crimes, human trafficking, child abuse, and more. These resources include referrals for a variety of services such as (but not limited to) counseling, housing needs, victim compensation, legal services, and crime reporting. 

Along with knowing your options on and off campus, additional steps to ensure your safety and well-being after an act of violence may include: 

  • Reaching out. Consider contacting someone you trust about whether this be a friend, family member, professor, or someone else to trust. Having someone with whom you feel comfortable confiding can be a helpful outlet to voice your challenges and concerns. 
  • Modifying your environment. Making a housing transfer, schedule change, or safety plan to reduce the risk of experiencing or witnessing a similar act of violence in the future can be a helpful safety precaution. 
  • Taking legal action. You might consider filing a civil protection order. This is a legal document that prohibits someone from contacting you if they've been verbally or physically abusive. Protection order forms are often available at courthouses, women’s shelters, police stations, and sometimes through select volunteer organizations who are knowledgeable about the violence you experienced. Some resources at your school, such as an office that supports students after violence, may also be able to help you file if needed. 
  • Advocating for change. If and when you get to a place where you feel able to speak out about the topic, you may also choose to get involved in discussions about institutional change. To do this, you might start by meeting with school administrators to discuss the review, and potential revision, of campus safety policies and procedures. 

As you're healing, you may think about what prevention efforts may be undertaken to help protect yourself and others in the future. Although the hope is that you never find yourself in the situation again, having the knowledge of prevention skills and techniques may help you to feel more in control of the situation should it occur again. In addition to researching what options are available on your campus for a bystander intervention training, other considerations you may keep in mind to help keep yourself and others at a lower risk of harm include: 

  • Create a backup of contacts and resources you might reach out to or use during an emergency. 
  • Offer to keep friends company on their way home. 
  • Have a plan for running out of battery or losing your phone. 
  • Be mindful about alcoholic beverages. 
  • Make sure you're traveling using a safe and trusted method of transportation. 
  • If you’re able, carry extra cash in case someone may need it during an emergency. 

List adapted from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Coping with difficult situations may be complicated, and there are resources out there to help you get through these challenging times. By asking for more information, you likely helped others connect with information and resources to help them heal and be on the road to healing. Thank you for your courageous submission, and please continue to seek the help you need. 

Last updated Sep 29, 2023
Originally published Apr 01, 2011

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