Victim Empowerment Program seeks to ‘promote recovery’

Chloe B. González/Panther Press

Angelique Ducounge/Staff Writer

Ninety percent of all campus rapes occur when alcohol was used by either the victim or the assailant; most victims, both male and female, are raped by an acquaintance or a romantic partner, not a stranger.

This is where the Victim Empowerment Program at FIU comes in.

“Our  mission is to promote the recovery of victims of violent crimes,” said Sharon Aaron, licensed clinical social worker and director of the VEP program. “Also to prevent retraumatization in the aftermath of their victimization, and to promote awareness through prevention education for the university.”

The program focuses on relationship violence, including sexual battery or stalking, while the center’s licensed clinicians also work to provide assistance and support for victims of hate crimes and hazing.

“What we do is we explain choices and help identify needs and do safety planning, then lay out whatever options there are depending on what’s happened or is happening with the student but we only fulfill the options that they choose,” said Aaron.

In addition to supportive crisis counseling, the center also offers accompaniment meetings which sees a licensed staff member accompanying students to places like the courts or rape treatment centers.

They can provide assistance with filing for restraining orders or student conduct complaints against their assailants, as well as facilitating academic accommodations by speaking with financial aid or professors when a crisis causes disruption in a student’s academic life.

“We want to help students recover and not get so far behind in their lives and their goals that it becomes a thing that really is disruptive and has a lasting impact on their lives,” said Aaron.

A 24-hour support hotline rotates between victim advocates to ensure someone will always be at hand to answer the phone. Depending on the severity of the situation and the student’s needs, a professional will either schedule an appointment with the counseling center at the student’s convenience, or reach out to them in person and accompany them in seeking out medical services.

The program’s services are covered in full by the student’s mandatory health fee —FIU online students can receive services as well, if they pay the fee— and are confidential. Filing a police report is not required to receive assistance and university records will never show that a student received services from the VEP.

“The number one priority for us is the safety of the student,” said Wendy X. Ordóñez, an outreach coordinator for the center. “We’re not going to force them to do anything.”

Ordóñez notes that educational events also encompass a large part of the Victim Empowerment Program, with around 170 presentations taking place throughout the year, with The Peer Education Program as a main component in their educational offerings.

The Victim Empowerment Program’s office is located in the Student Health Center, room 270. Students that attend the Biscayne Bay campus and any other student looking to schedule a regular appointment should call 305-348-2277. Services are provided to all members of the FIU community, including students, faculty, staff, and university visitors.

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