Is USF scaling back and outsourcing victim advocates?

University of South Florida

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According to its website, the University of South Florida’s Center for Victim Advocacy (CVA) “provides free and confidential services to USF students, faculty, and staff who have experienced crime, violence, or abuse, on or off campus;” but there’s concern among USF student groups about policy changes at the Center and about reduced staffing of victim advocates there.

WMNF interviewed Allison Hauser, an artist and advocate in the St. Pete area. She graduated from USF a year ago and does arts-healing coaching.

“The Center for Victim Advocacy, while it is not being physically eliminated, the roles and duties of the advocates and the employees that work within the center are being changed. What these changes include, we aren’t entirely sure. However, we do know for a fact that they are going down from five victim advocates to two advocates currently.

“Now they’re talking about going down to two victim, quote, ‘assistants.’ So, we’re going from advocates to assistants. And as a concerned alumni, I don’t really know what that means. But it’s concerning and super problematic.

“We now have information – or I do – from [student organization] Safe Home on their Facebook page, saying that the role of advocates will no longer include being able to escort students off campus. Let’s say to medical assistance or court cases, getting injunctions. All those types of things that are really necessary to help a survivor protect themselves or heal. Those assistants will not be able to help them in that regard.

“That single change alone – not being able to escort off campus – is very problematic and highly deleterious for the healing and support of trauma survivors, particularly, let’s say, people who do not have transportation to go to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. We’ve been told that these students will need to use Trans Care buses as a shuttle from campus to the Crisis Center to get those services they need. Personally, I would not want to be going on a Trans Care bus in a shuttle after an acute experience of trauma. So, I am concerned that this will actually create falling out of cases and less survivor success and then less student success overall.”

Listen:

“While the Center may physically be staying, de facto the simple outsourcing of services – even if it is to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay – is a stripping of the services that are available to the students on campus. So, while they are – perhaps – extending a partnership, it’s also extending and moving those services away from on-campus. And given [USF’s] preeminent university status, I really believe we should be focusing on extending and adding on to services already existing on campus rather than taking them away.”

It seems like if there were changes like this they might be rolled out maybe over the summertime so that people when they arrive on campus they can know about this. How do you feel as far as the changes that are happening, how they were communicated to students?

“I don’t think that the university has been as transparent as they possibly could be or should be with the student body, seeing as the students are the ones paying with their tuition dollars for their own health services. So, I have heard from Safe Home and NITE that, well, the Center for Victim Advocacy was listed on student syllabi the first week of school. And teachers were told to share that information about the advocacy services fully available [on campus] on student syllabi in the first week of school. And new student orientation also told new students, freshmen, international students: this is where you can go for a myriad of trauma survivor services.

“So, while it’s true that some of those services will still be available – and students always should go to the Center for support, and they still can – it’s very strange to me and concerning that these changes are happening without professor and student knowledge.

“We don’t know what this will mean in terms of impacting students on other campuses within the [USF system] consolidation. We also don’t know whether this Crisis Center even has the available resources to handle this influx.

“But all of this being said, while the changes are being pushed through, nothing is permanent as of yet. Which is really important for us to continue this conversation on social media as well as Safe Home and NITE student organizations are still collecting testimonies for victim advocacy. So if students have a story they would like to share regarding the importance of victim advocacy in their lives, you can please contact Safe Home and NITE on their Facebook pages. These testimonies will be shared with administration to demonstrate how important these services truly are and why they should remain on campus.”

“… There currently are still two advocates on campus who do all of those services including off-campus escorts and further resources. So, CVA is still there for help if you need them. You should reach out to them on their helpline at 813-974-5757. They’re located in the Student Services Building at SVC 2057 and by email at va@admin.usf.edu .”

The Center for Victim Advocacy referred WMNF’s questions to Dr. Rita DeBate, a Professor in the Department of Community and Family Health at USF’s College of Public Health and the Director of Doctoral Programs. But a university spokesperson told WMNF she was not available Tuesday or Wednesday.

The USF spokesperson did not know how many victims the Center for Victim Advocacy served last year.

 

Here’s part of the email statement from USF’s director of communications and marketing:

At the University of South Florida, there is nothing more important than the safety and well-being of our students. Our administration is committed to providing students with all the resources we can to support them in a time of crisis. As such, there are no plans to disband the CVA or reduce its services in any way.

On the contrary, USF’s Student Affairs & Student Success is always looking for ways to enhance and expand our available victim services. Working with partners across campus and in the community, we continually explore new ideas to help us provide the most comprehensive care possible, based on national best practices. One option under consideration is to formalize an existing partnership with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay – adding to, not replacing, services currently available to our students. Those discussions are ongoing and have not been finalized. Again, none of the services available to our students will be reduced or eliminated. A full description of those services can be found at https://www.usf.edu/student-affairs/victim-advocacy/.

The conversation about the CVA will continue, and we will share our plans, invite input from our campus community, and move forward in a timely and deliberate fashion to best to serve the USF community.

Here’s a Facebook post from USF Student Government:

 

Here is a FB post by Allison Hauser: