By RACHEL MANNING
This year, Erin Hopkins joined the University of Mary Washington as the university’s first Confidential Victims’ advocate. She became interested in Mary Washington after UMW received a grant from Department of Justice’s Office of Violence against Women in 2016. Before coming to work at UMW, Hopkins worked as a counselor in North Carolina and Northern Virginia.
“I’ve always been drawn to working with men and women who need help empowering themselves after trauma or crisis,” said Hopkins.
Students can visit Hopkins if they or a friend experience sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence, or other types of harassment. She will give students information about their options without pressure to report to administration or police.
Partly because this is a new resource, many students are not aware of its existence. Senior computer science major Imran Ahmed was one of these students.
“Everyone should know about this,” said Ahmed. “It should be publicized more.”
To make herself more visible, Hopkins has been working with the office of Title IX, the Talley Center, Residence Life, and other clubs and athletic teams.
“I am working in the Fredericksburg community to create awareness about my position, and about the services offered on and off-campus for UMW students,” said Hopkins.
While it may be slow at first, Hopkins expects more students to become aware of this resource over time, and thus more students will use it.
“I have had a few students come see me so far, and I think that as word spreads I’m going to be seeing a lot more,” said Hopkins. “With the rise of the #MeToo movement and other public instances of survivors speaking out, I believe that people will feel more comfortable to reach out for support and meet with me about their experiences.”
Speaking on what students can expect when visiting her office, Hopkins said “They can expect a supportive and non-judgmental conversation about what happened, and what resources are available to them. Many students find power and strength in telling their story, and I encourage students to share what specifically happened to them if they feel comfortable.” Then, Hopkins will go over their options, including coming up with a safety plan so the student knows what to do if they feel endangered and discuss reporting options and university accommodations, if needed.
Any student who has experienced a trauma, whether they are a man, a woman, or gender non-conforming, can seek help from Hopkins’s office.
“The bottom line is: no matter how you identify, you deserve to be treated with respect and you deserve support when that doesn’t happen,” Hopkins said.
She hopes to change certain assumptions about assault victims and make those affected feel more comfortable seeking help.
“I hope, first, to help break the stigma of not seeking help because students think they ‘did something wrong’ or ’deserved’ the violence they’ve experienced,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins noted that students do not usually inquire about such services proactively.
“It’s not until something happens to a student or a friend that they start looking [at] their options,” said Hopkins.
Students are glad to see the university taking action on tough issues.
“It’s good that the university is talking about [sexual assault] and not sweeping it under the rug,” said junior international affairs major Chloe Chindgren.
If a student wants to visit Hopkins’s office, they can call the Talley Center at (540)-654-1053 and set up on appointment. She is on campus every Monday afternoon and alternating Wednesday and Fridays.