Reporting what happened to the Title IX office. Filing legal charges. Finding counseling and support on or off campus. Deciding whether to undergo a forensic exam. Getting that letter for academic accommodations sent to the professor. It’s not always easy to decide what to do after an experience of interpersonal violence, which could include sexual assault, dating violence and gender discrimination.
Some students do not feel comfortable talking to a professor or an administrator about Title IX violations. Professors and most UT employees have to report probable violations to the Title IX office, and an investigation could be triggered whether the survivor wants that investigation to happen or not. Also, the age difference can make some students feel uncomfortable talking about what they experienced to a perceived authority figure.
A new program, however, could make accessing support after going through interpersonal violence less intimidating. The Interpersonal Violence Peer Support, IVPS, program, was established this fall and lets students explore their options without judgment. Meeting with a peer does not trigger a University investigation, leaving the decision of what to do next up to the survivor. Also, not everyone wants to talk to an adult, and talking to someone closer in age might be more relaxing. Students can even ask to meet with someone from the same major or the same class.
Mia Goldstein, the IVPS student coordinator and Plan II and radio-television-film junior, said at the grand opening of the program, “I missed my first counseling appointment here because I was too afraid to press the elevator button. Peer support exists to make this easier.”
Meetings take place with a peer advisor in a private, comfortable space. The room is painted in a calming cream color, and blue couches and chairs invite students to relax. Closed shades and a white noise machine ensure that no one will be able to peek in on a conversation. They can even bring friends along for support.
The support meetings help students figure out how to move forward in the wake of interpersonal violence. Peer advocates can help students explore their reporting options, find out how to get help to move forward after dealing with interpersonal violence and help them access the support resources necessary to recovery. For example, they can even help students access support from the Survivors Emergency Fund so students can change the locks on their apartment door or pay the rent.
“It’s their space to do what they need,” peer supporter Austin Smith said. “Wherever they want to go, we’ll go with them. We’re not going to pressure them to make choices or anything like that. We’re just there to provide information.”
Navigating the aftermath of difficult situations like sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking can be tricky. No one should have to go at it alone. Students should consider pointing friends in need to this resource and should know they can find this resource if they are in need themselves.
In the aftermath of interpersonal violence, survivors deserve to be believed and to be trusted to make the best choices for themselves. No one has to make those choices alone.”
Wong is a Plan II and government senior from McKinney. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @calebawong.