Schools assume a certain responsibility to keep their students safe. While the policies aimed at doing so don’t always actually result in safer environments for students, it’s important to know what resources are available.
When you’re ready to talk about your situation, identify the person you feel most comfortable opening up to, recognizing that most school employees are mandated reporters, meaning they’re required by law to report your situation to authorities if you’ve been abused.
Other important details to understand about campus safety include:
- Your rights at school.
Schools should be a safe place to learn and every student should be able to go to school free from harassment, abuse, or discrimination. If people are making school a dangerous environment for you, efforts to assert your rights may only be recognized as legitimate if done through your school’s specified abuse policy.
Trusted staff members will be able to inform you about the process and give perspective about the outcomes it can provide, but be sure to find out this information before disclosing the abuse you’re personally experiencing.
- Mandated reporting.
People who work in particular fields, including teachers, athletic coaches, school counselors, and social workers, are required by law to report abuse to an appropriate authority once they know about it. Reporting rules vary by state, but you should assume that school employees you talk to are mandated reporters with a legal obligation to report abuse, even if they recognize how reporting might cause you harm.
If you have concerns about speaking with someone who might be a mandated reporter, consider speaking in hypothetical terms about the situation without naming names or giving identifying information i.e. “I have a friend who is dealing with abuse.”
- Approaching school administration.
Staff and administrators at school are intended to support you but speaking to them can still be intimidating. If you’re prepared to discuss your situation with a school employee knowing it may be reported to authorities, identify a teacher or counselor you feel comfortable speaking to in private during lunch or outside of the regular school day; if you’re comfortable doing so, it can help to bring a friend with you who already knows about your situation.
When opening up, convey your concerns and what would make you feel safer, including anything the school can do to support you during class, while participating in after-school activities, or when you arrive at or leave campus. Check back in with the person after you’ve spoken with them to follow up on whether conditions have improved in your situation or if they’ve taken the steps you discussed.
- Campus safety or police.
Your school likely employs some form of law enforcement in the form of security guards, school resource officers, or campus police. These entities should be aware of school policies around dating abuse and may know resources available on campus.
However, like with local, state, or federal law enforcement, school police can escalate dangerous situations and may make bad situations worse. Learn more about safety and law enforcement.
- Drugs, alcohol, and abuse.
Drugs and alcohol are a common feature of social scenes at many schools, particularly on college campuses where students experience their first taste of independence after growing up at home. Intoxication can escalate emotions and may leave you without ways to exit a bad situation. Additionally, trauma often pushes survivors to abuse drugs or alcohol in order to distract themselves from the harm they experienced.
If you think you might have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse, know that there’s support available. Contact us to learn more about getting help for substance abuse issues.
- Abuse and minors.
If a survivor is under 18, mandatory reporting laws may require that reports made to school staff are not kept confidential — these laws vary state by state. Mandated reporters are required by law to report violence, abuse, or neglect to the police or a child abuse reporting agency like Child Protective Services (CPS).
Take this detail into consideration when evaluating your options as a minor and learn more from resources like ChildHelp.org.