How to Help: A Guide for Staff & Faculty

Understanding the Needs of the Victim/Survivor

Before you can help in supporting a student who is being abused, it's important to know what her needs may be. Here are some common issues a victim may face, along with suggestions on how to help. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Talking with the student is the only way to get a full idea of her situation. Some students may need additional assistance depending on their sexual orientation, immigration/documentation status and parental status.

Leaving can be the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. Refer the student to the Center for Community Solutions to develop a personalized safety plan.

Emotional support.

Appropriate emotional support for students who have experienced abuse should be based on an empowerment model, the objectives of which are to offer information and validation, explore options, reduce the stigma of victimization, and recognize the right to self-determination.

To Help:

small purple ribbonMost faculty and staff do not have the time or the training to provide on-going individual support for a student in need. However, there are many resources where students can get the support they need. Refer to this 'where to find help' page for a list of free or low-cost counseling services specializing in relationship abuse.

If a student is coming to you for support, s/he is demonstrating a great deal of trust and respect for you. Here are some tips for how to best support a victim of abuse.

  • Let her know it is not her fault.

  • Tell her she does not deserve to be abused.

  • Acknowledge that she is the expert of her own situation. Do not assume to know what is best for her; rather, ask questions and provide information so she can make the best decision.

  • Support her decisions, even if you disagree with them. She may not be ready to leave the relationship. She may not want to go to the police. Do not attempt to pressure or "force" her to do anything she does not want to do. Doing so may leave her more disempowered, and in the end may not trust coming to you again.

  • Respect her confidentiality. This means getting as few people involved in the process as possible. Only include those who are really needed, and only do so with her prior permission.

  • Set boundaries. It is important that you do not put yourself in violent or inappropriate situations. You can be there for her, but you cannot save her.

  • Get help and support for yourself! The Women's Resource Center can be a resource for you to get feedback, information, and provide you with support.

Safety Concerns.

Victims of relationship violence may have serious safety concerns. Even after ending the relationship, victims may be stalked and/or face on-going violence by their ex. Unfortunately, abuse does not always stay at home. The victim may be in danger at work and at school as well. Students may need help connecting with resources on and off campus to help keep them safe.

To Help:

small purple ribbonEncourage the student to connect withThe Women's Resource Center to complete a safety plan. This will help her think through various situations that can increase her preparedness in case of an emergency.

Let the student know about how to obtain a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. The restraining order can include orders for the batterer to stay away from the victim's home/work and/or children's school and orders for the batterer to be removed from the residence. Information on obtaining a restraining order can be found on the Superior Court of San Diego County website.

The student should notify the University Police, particularly if she has a restraining order or if she is unsafe on campus.

Academic Advocacy

It is rare that a student who is currently or has previously been in an abusive relationship does not experience negative academic consequences. In fact, many college staff may find the first “point of contact” from a student who has experienced abuse is due to concerns about academic progress rather than the abuse itself. Therefore, professors and instructors, academic deans, and student affairs staff should all be prepared to assist students in their goals of academic success and be equipped with information about appropriate referrals.

To Help:

small purple ribbonAdvocacy relative to academic progress can include such things as documenting absences, supporting requests for extension of deadlines, supporting petitions to drop a class where a student is not safe from the abuser and/or the abuser’s friends, etc. In addition, individuals providing advocacy should be creative in identifying arrangements, both formal and informal, which will enable students to maintain their academic achievement.

At times, survivors may also need assistance getting emergency loans to continue their education. Full or partial financial reimbursement in cases where abuse has prevented them from meeting course requirements is useful.

Sharing of any information disclosed by the survivor should only be done with specific written permission and always on a strict “need to know” basis.