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 normal to feel upset, overwhelmed, angry, anxious, or any other range of emotions as a result. In terms of what to do next, you may want to try contacting a mental health professional or health care provider to discuss how you’re feeling. It also may help to familiarize yourself with the resources available both on- and off-campus that can offer support as you continue to process what happened.

If you choose to contact a mental health professional, you could choose to make an appointment at your school’s counseling center, or contact a therapist off-campus (you could review Finding low-cost counseling or How to find a therapist for more recommendations). Whichever option you choose, a mental health provider might assess your current needs and collaborate 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 stemming from your experience, and a provider may assist you in determining what type of intervention best fits your needs. 

Other on-campus departments may offer support as well, in addition to student mental health and medical centers. Are you familiar with your school’s public safety information? If not, you could try doing some research to identify the phone number to call or text and consider saving this number to your phone’s contacts. This 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 interpersonal in nature, you may also see if your school has an office to support students who have experienced sexual assault or other forms of violence. They may have further 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 other options at your disposal. 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 to 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 to someone you trust about your concerns, whether this be a friend, a family member, a professor, or someone else to trust and with whom you feel comfortable confiding.
  • 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.
  • Filing for a civil protection order, 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, relevant volunteer organizations. Some resources at your school, such as an office that supports students after violence, may be able to help you file if needed.

As you're healing, you may think about what prevention efforts may be undertaken to help protect yourself and others in the future. If you feel comfortable intervening in the situation, try creating a distraction, or taking a more direct approach. You may also consider reaching out to authority as needed, or enlisting help from others. As an active bystander other considerations to keep yourself and others at a lower risk of harm include:

  • Creating a backup of contacts and resources you might reach out to or use during an emergency.
  • Offering to keep friends company on their way home.
  • Having a plan for running out of battery or losing your phone.
  • Keeping tabs on alcoholic beverages.
  • Making sure you're traveling safely. 
  • If able, carrying extra cash, in case someone may need it during an emergency.

Adapted from RAINN.

All together, these types of actions can act as a form of bystander intervention. An active bystander is someone who intervenes in a situation to help others. For example, this may mean speaking up when crude jokes are made, providing information to health or law enforcement if they're asking questions of witnesses, or stepping in to support others when needed. While this is behavior that you can take on by yourself, it works best when this a collective effort done by a community to look out for one another. Many schools have programs to involve their campus in efforts to become active bystanders. If you're interested, you may want to reach out to learn if your school has a program like this, and if they don't, you could talk to student leadership to see how one could be brought to campus. 

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 other connect with information and resources that may help them process through a similar experience and be on the road to healing. Thank you for your courageous submission, and please continue to seek the help you deserve.

Last updated Nov 08, 2019
Originally published Apr 01, 2011

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