Dear Alice,

I'm a teenage gal in a great relationship with another girl who goes to my school. We're both out to our parents and some friends, with okay reactions. The problem is, our school is pretty homophobic, and word is getting out that we're dating. My parents worry we might be physically or verbally assaulted at school. My neighbor, who owns guns, has already asked me about it, and I'm scared for our safety. What can two girls in a homophobic suburban school do? We don't have the same support system some college students do. We don't have a GSA and I don't trust any of the school staff much. Please help!

— Worried about Gay-Bashing

Related Q&As:

  • Getting in touch during an emergency

This article shares insights and advices on how to have an emergency plan for your family. In case of an emergency, especially natural catastrophes, it is sometimes difficult to reach loved ones via cell phones, so making use of the internet, such as web based chat rooms, emails, and online texting services become handy. Also, if one area is affected, it is sometimes easier to reach contacts out of town, or outside of the affected area. It is also important to have a family plan to know who you will contact in case of an emergency and memorize a few numbers. Also, local authorities might get overwhelm with 911 calls. Sometimes, reverting to the old gadgets such as TV and radio can be useful. The author also advices to keep a phone landline since they are less likely to experience interruption.


  • Worried about gay-bashing

This article provides tips and resources to stay safe in a homophobic environment unfortunately. Although it is impossible to control anyone's behavior or beliefs other than your own, it is possible to stay safe by involving the community and creating a support system. For example, it mentions that addressing fears and concerns with leaders in the community may help enact change, and even creating an LGBTQ inclusive space. In addition, developing allies and planning how to respond in advance in an unsafe situation, may open doors to more options and resources from others in the community. It can also help reduce parents' fears by giving them an active role in their children safety. Lastly, the author provides links to organizations that can provide strategizing help, emotional support, legal advice, and socializing opportunities, including:


  • Safety in the city... and everywhere else

Although this question addresses safety around Columbia university campus, it provides great tips when it comes to safety in a big safety or anywhere really. Here are some of the advices provided: The first is to trust your instincts, if you feel like someone is following you, turn in the opposite direction, let roommates, friends, or partners know where you will be, when to expect you, or if you're going to be late or out of town. Also be aware of your environment at all times, even during the day.  Be aware of doorways, the space between cars, and other areas people could hide. Try to make eye contact and even speaking up to stop someone from annoying you. Also, try to avoid potentially dangerous spots like empty lots and when taking the bus or subway, stick with well-lit, and preferably well-peopled, bus stops and subway platforms. Don't sleep on the bus or subway. Also be aware of who gets off the bus or subway with you. Head directly to a public place if you feel that someone is following you. Lastly notify authorities, including campus facilities department about all crime(s) or suspicious activity immediately.



·          A civil protection order, sometimes also referred to as a temporary restraining order (TPO). It is a legal document that bars an individual from certain types of contact with the person who is awarded the order (source 1)


Source 1:  RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization

SUMMARY: This article is about safety on college campus. Although college campuses can feel safe, there are perpetrators who take advantage of this “safe environment” to commit acts of sexual violence. It provides steps that can be taken to ensure everyone’s safety on campus. The author provides the following tips that may reduce the risks of many different types of crimes, including sexual violence. The first is to know available resources. Have an emergency contact and knowing where to go, such as campus health center, emergency phone and police station, and local sexual assault service provider. Also programing the campus security number into your cell phone for easy access. Although all of these are important, staying alert and being aware of the surroundings are also important, especially when using headphones. If a student is feeling uncomfortable, it is ok to ask a friend or campus escort to walk with them. In addition, it warns against over posting on social media, especially when it comes to location. Making friends that are trustworthy, always make sure to have a plan B if you phone is out of battery, and carrying some cash and to not solely rely on cards are also great tips. Lastly, secure all doors and windows. When it comes to social gatherings, make a plan to return with others when coming back late. Protect your drink by keeping an eye when the bartender is making it and never leaving it unattended and know your limits to stay alert. An assault is bothering and can be overwhelming at time, but taking steps to protect yourself afterwards are important. For example, students are advised to visit the counseling and psychological service department on campus. Their health centers, and security escorts. If the crime happened at their residence or nearby, they can request housing or schedule change, and create a safety plan. In addition to resources on campus, there are the ones off-campus. When concerned about anonymity, they can seek out resources located off campus in the community, like a local sexual assault service provider or domestic violence shelter. Anyone who has been victimized can seek a civil protection order, sometimes also referred to as a temporary restraining order (TPO). It is a legal document that bars an individual from certain types of contact with the person who is awarded the order. It is important to remember that if you are sexually assaulted on campus it is not your fault—help and support are available.

Source 2: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization

SUMMARY. This article is again by the RAINN. It provides steps and tips to prevent sexual assault. It informs readers that they are many different ways that they can step in or make a difference if they see someone at risk. This approach to preventing sexual assault is referred to as “bystander intervention.” Bystanders should intervene in way that fits the situation and their comfort level without putting themselves at risk. The first way to intervene is to create a distraction to give the person at risk the change to escape. Examples include cutting off the conversation, starting an activity that draws people’s attention to a game, a debate, or fresh food and drinks. More direct approach is to ask the person in trouble questions like “Who did you come here with?” or “Would you like me to stay with you?” Another advice is to take to authority, whether it is an RA, a security guard, or calling 911. Lastly it advises to feel free to ask someone to come with you to approach the person at risk. When it comes to expressing concern, sometimes there is power in numbers. Bystanders can potentially save someone. It concluded to say that our actions matter. Whether or not we were able to change the outcome, by stepping in we are helping to change the way people think about their role in preventing sexual assault.

Source 3: GoodTherapy, LLC

SUMMARY. This article addresses how to get help after an abuse. It explores the therapeutic treatments and even legal actions one can take. Getting support after an abuse is highly encouraged. A mental health professional can help people assess and escape abusive situations. Abuse survivors can address their negative emotions and memories of the abuse in therapy. Therapy is also available for people who wish to stop abusing others. A therapist may treat underlying mental health concerns and teach someone healthy ways to solve conflicts. It is most effective when a person truly tries to change, as opposed to someone who is only in treatment due to a court order. The author explains that different situations call for different types of therapy. For example, couples counseling may help a survivor of child abuse be intimate with their spouse. Also, young children require different treatments than adults. Every individual has unique needs. One of the treatment methods is psychotherapy. Therapy is a safe place to express and process difficult emotions. The victim may shift back and forth along this spectrum. Anger, shame, relief, loss, these are all valid reactions. Many types of therapy can help people manage their feelings. Mindfulness techniques aim to make them aware of which situations trigger your emotions. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) can help process traumatic memories so they become less disruptive. Equine-assisted activities may teach how to trust others again. The author explains that rebuilding self-esteem is a common goal in therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients challenge unrealistic expectations of themselves. Narrative therapy can allow them to reframe their identity outside of their victimhood. Experiential techniques such as art therapy can also boost confidence. Group therapy has demonstrated effectiveness in helping survivors. Social support can help cope with any stigma encountered. Talking with others who have similar experiences can also help you feel less isolated. In addition, it advises people at risk to make a safety plan, especially in cases of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends creating a plan for before, during, and after you leave or take action against an abuser. Some tips include gathering evidence of abuse, telling at least one trusted individual about your experiences, researching local shelters and related organizations, having a bag packed with essentials at all times, and changing routines such as the grocery store you use, the route you take to work, or regular appointments. In case of immediate danger, call 911 or local law enforcement immediately.

When it comes to child abuse, there is no single approach. Therapy will typically begin with an assessment of the child’s circumstances, which usually include behavior, functioning, history or experience of abuse, and treatment needs. A psychotherapist might use clinical tools and behavior checklists to supplement their observations about a child. They may also interview the child’s parents or teachers. Treatments may involve one or more types of therapy, including play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, family therapy and parent-child interaction therapy. 

Lastly, the author also advises on legal help for someone who is abused by filing a protection order, which keeps a dangerous person away. Courthouses, women’s shelters, police stations, and some volunteer organizations can provide protection order forms. After experiencing abuse, there is a time limit on suing a person or pressing charges. The National Crime Victim Bar Association can advise further on the steps to take.


Source 4: The National Center for Victims of Crime

SUMMARY: In this source, the author explains how to respond when youth is victimized. It states that young people ages 12 to 24 suffer more violent crime than any other age group in the United States. Parents, teachers, coaches, or other adults, may have a unique opportunity to help a young person who has been hurt by crime, whether assault, homicide, bullying, robbery, hate crime, sexual assault, stalking, or any other victimization. Some of the reactions to crime in youths include changes in eating or sleeping habits, aggressive or inappropriate behavior, mood swings, attention-seeking behavior, difficulty concentrating, nightmares or insomnia, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, and depression or anxiety.  Youth who have been hurt by crime may tell trusted friends about victimization, but they often avoid or delay telling adults about such traumatic experiences. Fear of consequences: Youth may believe that disclosing victimization will only make things worse. For example, sexual abuse victims may fear that the abuser will retaliate against them or their families, and victims of theft may fear punishment from their parents if a valuable item was stolen. Some feel ashamed, others have trust issues, want privacy, or the need for independence. Surprisingly enough, some teenagers might lack awareness that a crime has occurred. For example, when abuse occurs in a dating relationship, a young girl’s inexperience may lead her to believe that a boyfriend’s aggression is a sign of love.

Adults can help by creating a sense of safety and protection from further victimization. Also providing support so the victims know that they are not alone that there are people in their support network, as well as professional helpers, who will listen, understand, encourage, and care. Also youths need age-appropriate information about types of crimes against youth, normal reactions to trauma, how to heal, and victims’ rights and choices after victimization is disclosed. They should also feel like they privacy is respected. Lastly, empowerment and hope are important in helping people recover from a crime and rebuild their lives.  In a nutshell, the author advises adults to create a supportive atmosphere, start a conversation, and reserve judgment. If in need of professional help, refer to a victim advocates organization, specially trained victim advocates may provide youth and their adult caregivers with information and counseling on crime victims’ rights, victim services, and options, including safety planning.

Source 5: The New York Police Department

This article from the NYPD is about how to report a crime, whether it is in progress or a has already happened. In case of immediate danger, please call 911. People can get assistance regardless of their age or immigration status. If a crime is in progress, or you have just witnessed or experienced a crime, try to get to safety first. It provides the below tips (taken from source):

  • Call 911 immediately and try to stay calm.
  • Be alert of your surroundings and try to make mental notes.
  • When talking to the 911 dispatcher, keep in mind the following:
    • The first question you will be asked is, "Where is your emergency?"
      • Give the dispatcher as specific an address as possible.
      • If you don't know the exact address, try to provide a street name or to identify landmarks around you. It is extremely important to provide as much detail about your location as possible.
    • Is anyone hurt?
      • Let the dispatcher know if anyone requires medical assistance.
    • Make note of the physical characteristics of the victim or perpetrator, including such details as height, weight, race, hair color, eye color, tattoos, or scars.
    • Make note of the clothing worn by the victim or perpetrator, including the type of clothing and color.
    • Are the people involved on foot or in a car?
    • Are there weapons involved?
  • Do not destroy evidence that could assist police, including any objects or clothing that could have fingerprints, hair, skin, blood or semen on them.

All 911 calls can be connected to a translator if foreign language assistance is needed.

Depending on where the crime occurred, you may report the crime to agencies such as the MTA police, NY State Police, or Port Authority Police, if the location of the crime falls within their respective jurisdictions. Otherwise, contact your local precinct as soon as possible, to file a Sexual Violence Crimes

It points out that victims of sexual violence should call 911 if they are in immediate danger; otherwise, they should call the NYPD Special Victims Division 24-hour hotline at 646-610-7272.

Also to share information or a tip about a crime that may lead to the arrest of a criminal, or assist law enforcement in its investigation of a crime, contact Crime Stoppers to submit information and tips anonymously.


Source 6: VictimConnect, a Program of the National Center for Victims of Crime


This article is just about VictimConnect. It is a referral helpline where crime victims can learn about their rights and options confidentially and compassionately. A program of the National Center for Victims of Crime, it combines (taken from source):

With extensive specialized training, their Victim Assistance Specialists stand ready to help crime victims. Their most served crimes are (taken from source):

  • Sexual Assault (including campus)
  • Assault/Attempted Homicide
  • Domestic/Dating Violence (and/or protective order violations)
  • Homicide
  • Financial Crimes (Identity Theft, Fraud and/or Exploitation)
  • Hate Crimes
  • Human Trafficking (labor and sex)
  • Stalking
  • Mass Events
  • Elder Abuse or Neglect
  • Child Abuse (Physical, Sexual, and/or Neglect)

Whether by chat or phone, their specialists assist victims in locating appropriate national, local, or online referrals. The VictimConnect Resource Center also has a special focus on populations, crimes, and topics that are generally underrepresented or underserved in victim services. To that end, they partner with the following National Center programs:

  • National Crime Victim Bar Association, the nation’s only nonprofit, crime-victim attorney-referral service, with over 300 attorney members across the country. By working with the Bar Association, we are able to provide victims with information about their civil legal remedies and connect them with a professional who can guide them through the process of filing civil charges.
  • Financial Crimes Resource Center, to provide the latest information and options for victims of all financial crimes. Through the resource center’s extensive knowledge base and web content, they are able to walk victims of financial crime through the complex reporting and recovery process. 

Here are some of the topics VictimConnect can assist callers with case management, mental Health and Counseling Services, housing needs, victim compensation and restitution, national and local referrals, legal services, civil justice options, victim rights’ advocacy, and crime reporting. The helpline employs both English and Spanish-speaking Victim Assistance Specialists. Any specialist can also access an interpreter for more than 200 languages (via the phone hotline only). Deaf, hearing- and/or speech-impaired individuals can reach us using our text and chat functions or by calling 711, a national access number that connects to Telecommunications Relay Services.
























Dear Reader,

When something happens on campus it can feel like your world has been turned upside down. It's normal to feel nervous, anxious, and stressed by events like these, but it's important to realize that there are support systems in place to make you feel safe. At Columbia there are numerous groups that are available to help students in difficult times:

Public Safety
Public Safety's main function is just that — to keep the public (in this case, the Columbia community) safe. It's a good idea to have Public Safety's contact numbers in your cell phone in case of an emergency.

    • For Information:
      • Students on Columbia's Morningside campus should call 212-854-2796.
      • Medical campus students should call 212-305-8100.
    • In an Emergency:
      • Morningside: 212-854-5555 (x4-5555 from campus phones)
      • Medical center: 212-305-7979 (x5-7979 from campus phones)

You can also email public safety (link sends e-mail). Public safety personnel monitor this email address regularly.

Public Safety also runs a number of other services to assist members of the community:

  • Call Boxes: Public safety also has call boxes around both the Morningside and Medical Center campus. These call boxes are placed in many locations around campus where Columbia members can find them in an emergency.
  • Safe Havens: Columbia has set up a network of businesses in the Morningside and Medical Center area where students, faculty and staff can go when they feel unsafe. You can find these safe havens by looking for the Red Lion decal on the store window or clicking here. These locations have an agreement with Columbia to call Public Safety.
  • Escorts: Students should never feel like they have to walk home late at night if they are feeling unsafe. Public Safety runs a service to help Columbia community members get home safely. Call 212-854-SAFE (7233) at Morningside Campus. After hours (Prior to 8 pm or after 3 am) call 212-854-2798.
  • Text Messaging: Columbia has created a text messaging service as a way to reach members of the community in the case of an emergency. Text messaging will be used by Columbia to community valuable information to community members. Students should go to SSOL to enroll in the service. Faculty and staff can register through My Columbia.

Counseling and Psychological Services
Counselors and therapists are available to students at any point in time, but during emergency situations the department often extends their hours and locations in order to accommodate the community. You can also make appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services.

Medical Services
In times of physical distress or when symptoms from stress and anxiety are interfering with your daily life, Medical Services is a good resource for finding out what is bothering you and working with a health care professional to determine what is the best way of coping with these problems.

Sexual Violence Response 
Sexual Violence Response provides a myriad of services related to sexual and relationship violence. From counseling and support to education and advocacy, the team can help students cope with issues related to sexual violence.

Ombuds Office
The Ombuds Office at Columbia is available to any member of the community to discuss issues about administration. This could be anything from work place discrimination to the bureaucratic process.

  • Morningside: Call x4-1234 for an appointment
  • Medical Center: Call 212-304-7026

New York City Police Department/911
In the case of an emergency, you can also call 911. Calls to 911 get directed to the NYC Police Department, where personnel can respond immediately to situations.

Coping with difficult situations can be complicated, but know that there are resources out there to help you get through these challenging times. Although it can be easy to feel alone and lost when something like this happens, know that you are part of a community of people all going through this together.



Notes on research:




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