The Safe Office

In addition to our Meet a Deac feature (where we highlight specific members of our campus community), I thought it might also be helpful to showcase offices or departments on campus. Recently I sat down with Steph Trilling, Assistant Director of the Safe Office, to learn more about the work that she does.

What is the Safe Office?
The Safe Office is a confidential resource available to all students on the Reynolda Campus of Wake Forest University who have experienced sexual misconduct including sexual assault, harassment, stalking, and relationship abuse.  National survey data suggests that as many as 1 in 3 in transgender students, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 16 men experience sexual misconduct on while in school. In addition, we know that many students come into college with previous experiences of sexual misconduct.  We provide a 24/7 crisis response line when school is in session and year-round counseling, advocacy, education, and prevention services. We support all students on campus, from those who have had firsthand experiences to their friends, family members, and other support people on campus, as well. We also advise the student organization, PREPARE, which is a peer leadership program focused on ending sexual and relationship violence on campus.

How can students access the Safe Office?
The Safe Office is located next door to the Student Health Service on the ground floor of (the newly renovated!) Reynolds Gym.  Safe Office staff are on campus Monday-Friday from 8:30am-5:00pm. Our private waiting room is in B104 and students can drop in during our hours and let the receptionist at Student Health know they would like to meet with a counselor.  Students can also call our 24/7 help line at 336.758.5285 to speak with a counselor immediately, to request in-person accompaniment for medical care and a sexual assault evidence collection kit, to file a police report, or to file a Title IX complaint with the University.

We encourage students to make appointments in advance by calling the help line  at 336.758.5285 or e-mailing safe@nullwfu.edu to ensure that someone will be available to meet with them.  For urgent situations, we provide immediate support through our help line and for non-urgent situations we are typically able to see students the same week.

My understanding is that one of the functions of the Safe Office is to help students who want to make a report of an instance of sexual misconduct, and you’ll work with them on that, yes?
Yes – though not every student wants to make a report. And it is important to understand the reasons why a student may not want to report experiences of sexual misconduct, or may not want to report it right away.  Sometimes the experience has happened prior to/outside of their time on campus, and the student just needs a safe space to talk about it. Many students say that after an experience of sexual misconduct, they just want things to go back to normal.  Participating in a reporting process can remind them of their experience, which may contribute to further emotional distress for the student.  

Other reasons include concern that the University or the police won’t believe them or won’t take it seriously.  Finally, many students worry about the potential for emotional, physical, and social consequences to reporting. For example, if a student was assaulted by a friend, they might fear that other friends will choose sides and that they will lose access to their community and sources of support.  Students might fear that the person who hurt them will hurt them again for reporting the incident (or will hurt someone else they care about). It is important for students to know that any form of retaliation against a student for making a report of sexual misconduct is strictly prohibited at Wake Forest.

What happens when a student goes to the Safe Office?
Experiences of sexual misconduct are often overwhelming to students, causing them to feel out of control and unsure what to do or where to turn.  The very first thing we tell students who come to the Safe Office is that they are in complete control of what happens next. As a confidential resource,we are required to protect the confidential conversations that occur between our providers and clients.  This means that students can choose to first explore their reporting options within a confidential environment before deciding what, if any, steps they want to take regarding reporting. Students often have options related to their medical care and legal rights and the Safe Office can help them navigate and access services and accommodations to ensure that they are safe and able to be succeed in their academic pursuits while healing from any trauma that has occurred. No two students are alike and our approach is individualized to make sure that every students makes the best decision for them at the time.

What can parents and families do?
Parents and families play a critical role in preparing their students for a healthy and safe college experience and supporting them as they navigate new friendships and relationships.  By opening the door for conversations about relationships, consent, and sexual misconduct, parents and families can help create a safe and supportive campus environment for all students.

When students are home for the summer, it is a good time to ask them about:

  • What do you think makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy? Do you know people on campus who are in unhealthy relationships?
  • How do you know if someone is interested in a sexual relationship with you?
  • What about when alcohol is a factor?  How do you communicate your boundaries and figure out someone else’s?   
  • How do you deal with rejection if someone isn’t interested in you?
  • Do you know about the resources on campus for students who have experienced sexual misconduct?

For parents and families of students who have experienced sexual misconduct, your support can be instrumental in helping your student heal and move forward.  Students who receive supportive responses from family and friends after an assault are more likely to report the incident to the school or to the police and to seek out resources like medical attention and counseling. It’s important to remember that not all students will tell their parents and families about their experiences, but that doesn’t mean that families still can’t be supportive.  When sexual misconduct comes up on the news or in popular media or if your student tells you about a friend’s experience, your reaction can set the tone for whether or not they feel you will be a safe person to talk to if anything should ever happen to them.

Parents and families can offer support to a student who has experienced sexual misconduct by:

  • Believing them
  • Not judging or blaming them for the choices they made prior to their experience
  • Letting them decide how they would like to move forward
  • And offering to help them connect to resources, like the Safe Office

Would parents/family members call the Safe Office? When wouldn’t they?
The Safe Office isn’t just a resource for students, we work with parents, families, and other loved ones too.  Parents and families often experience some of the same reactions that their students have after an experience of sexual misconduct: feeling out of control, fearful, angry, worried, or even blaming themselves for not being there or not doing enough. The Safe Office can help parents and families who are experiencing these reactions by providing short term support as well as providing general information about campus safety, legal and medical resources, and by making referrals for students and families on campus and at home.

When email notifications are sent out to campus, what do they signify?
If parents and families signed up to receive crime alerts from Wake Ready, they may have noticed e-mails or alerts about reported crimes on campus.  The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges and universities that receive federal funds to give “timely warnings” of certain crimes, including sexual assault and rape, that occur on what is considered the University’s “Clery geography” and may pose a serious or ongoing threat to community safety. If these crimes are reported to Campus Security Authorities or local law enforcement agencies, an e-mail will be sent out to alert the campus community. Names and identifying information of victims are not included in these messages in order to respect their privacy.  In addition to public safety, these alerts are an important way to inform students of resources that are available to them on and off campus. For additional information regarding timely warnings, including who qualifies as a Campus Security Authority and what constitutes the University’s Clery geography, please see the Annual Crime and Fire Report

Why wouldn’t an e-mail notification go out?
Announcements may not be sent if the crime did not occur on the University’s Clery geography or if there is no ongoing threat to the campus community.   The Major of Police or designee reviews crime reports to determine if there is an ongoing threat to the community and whether the distribution of an email notification is warranted.  We refer to those announcements as crime alerts or timely warnings. If there is a significant emergency or dangerous situation on campus involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees, a text message and, when appropriate, an outdoor siren/voice alert will go out.

Any final thoughts?
There is so much to be hopeful about in regards to sexual misconduct on college campuses.  Students, faculty and staff are engaged in prevention efforts from the very first day they step foot on campus and survivors are able to thrive in a supportive campus community.  The Safe Office is always here as a resource for your students, as well as for parents and families. Our contact information and office location are below if ever you need us.

Location: Ground floor of Reynolds Gym (next to Student Health Service) in offices B104-B107

Hours: Monday – Friday from 8:30-5pm, appointment recommended

24/7 Confidential Help Line: 336.758.5285

E-mail*: safe@nullwfu.edu

Website: https://safeoffice.wfu.edu/

*Email is not a secure form of communication and confidentiality cannot be ensured.

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