UTPD’s new Victim Advocate Network caters to faculty and staff

Allyson Waller

The UT Police Department is creating a volunteer advocate network to increase support for faculty and staff who are victims of crime or affected by tragic events.

The UT HealthPoint Employee Assistance Program currently provides counseling by licensed professionals for faculty and staff through human resources. However, the new Victim Advocate Network will provide additional emotional support specifically for crime–related trauma.

“The University cares about faculty and staff, (but) there has been an arm missing about being able to care adequately (and) to demonstrate that care to the degree that it’s felt … ,” said Deborah Sharp, UT’s HealthPoint Employee Assistance Program counselor and volunteer coordinator for the new network.

Due to funding, UTPD’s Victim Advocate Network has been a few years in the making, and just applied for a grant before the deadline this month, Sharp said. The network will consist of only faculty and staff volunteers — no undergraduate or graduate students — who are not licensed counselors, but are trained to respond to incidents on campus and provide emotional support, according to UTPD’s website. UTPD captain Chris Bonnet said volunteers of the network can help assist police in areas officers may not be available to address.

“This team of advocates can come out and provide that (emotional) support that maybe the police are not equipped or trained or in a position to do,” Bonnet said.

Volunteers will be at the discretion of UTPD and will be notified when needed to help faculty and staff. Sharp said the program also helps faculty and staff find resources off-campus and facilitate them through the criminal justice process, if necessary.

The network is modeled after the Travis County Sheriff’s Department and the Austin Police Department’s programs, Sharp said. Employees applying to be a part of UTPD’s network will take online training from the sherrif’s department and observe APD’s victim services staff during their training process.

Sharp said she looked at other universities with similar programs. Sergeant Rhonda Blair, a Victim Service Officer for the Austin Community College Police Department, said ACC’s Victim Assistance Program show victims how to navigate the criminal justice system when dealing with incidents such as dating violence or family violence.

“You have to ensure that they know their rights as a victim,” Blair said.

UT President Gregory Fenves was willing to incentivize UT employees to volunteer by allowing up to four hours of paid work time a month for training and helping faculty and staff, Sharp said.

Although Sharp said there is not a definite start date of the program yet, the network is currently accepting volunteer applications, which are available through UTPD’s website.

“When there have been tragic events on campus we’ve heard from faculty and staff (that) there was a need for them to feel more cared about,” Sharp said. “I’m really happy that we’re going to have a vehicle in place to do that.”