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Winter break: Tips for survivors of interpersonal violence

woman sitting exhausted on the floor with her dog

Leaving campus can be a break from the demands of school, work, and social activities. But for survivors of interpersonal violence, it can be a time with complicated emotions and conflict. Through this difficult time, there are strategies that can help to minimize harm and maximize self-care.   

Before you leave campus 

  • Trust yourself. You are the expert on your needs and the interactions you want to have with people. Only you know what is best for you, and it’s your decision about what to share, with whom you share it, and how much you share about your experiences and feelings. If going home is unsafe for you, consider staying on campus or in Madison. You might also consider going somewhere else, like a friend’s home.  
  • Make a plan.Consider who will be at social get-togethers and establish boundaries ahead of time for when to leave. Develop a plan for transportation if you think may want to leave – like having other places to go and having cash on hand if you need to leave unexpectedly.If you aren’t able to leave, create a plan for being safe in your own space (a bedroom, outside on a walk).
  • Talk with your support system.Identify a person you trustand talk to them about their capacity to support you in the coming weeks. Perhaps you’d like them to answer your calls at a certain time, or check in with you over text every day.Whether they are with you in-person or only available over text or a phone call, this conversation can give you a safe outlet if you need a friend’s support.   
  • Know that support is available. Even when you are away from campus, support is still available. 
    • UHS  Survivor Serviceshas advocates who can help create a safety plan in advance – you can reach them at (608) 265-5600 option 3.
    • The Dane County Rape Crisis Centerhas a free, 24/7 hotline that you can access by calling (608) 251-7273.
    • The National Domestic Violence hotline is available at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).  
  • Be proactive about setting up mental health appointments. If you know that the holidays are triggering or stressful, set up some appointments with your therapist in advance, rather than after the fact. 

During the break 

  • Healing looks different for everyone. Take small steps to promote your happiness and well-being. For example, if you plan to see friends and/or family, but do not feel supported or find yourself feeling unsafe, have a back-up plan that prioritizes your sense of well-being, such as watching a movie or working out.  
  • If you or your loved ones celebrate the holidays during the academic break, pressure to feel “happy” and “festive” can be especially prominent. OptionBis a website dedicated to creating small moments of self-care and connection for both yourself and for your support system.  
  • Do things that make you feel safe and in control. UHS has free, online streaming services for your personal and mental well-being. Visit SilverCloud to access mental health treatment 24/7, without a professional referral. Guided relaxation exercises are available for students as well.   

If a family member is/was the abuser: 

  • Keep yourself safe. If you think an environment will be dangerous to you, make alternative plans—even if it defies social expectations.  
  • If you know that your immediate safety can be ensured, but a perpetrator is present, do not go alone. Go with a family member or friend that you trust, or be ready to call/text someone you trust. You can also share your phone location on apps like Find My Friends and keep important items with trusted individuals.  
  • If possible, try to go into environments with at least a few coping mechanisms that make you feel safe. Things like texting a friend, scrolling social media, or watching videos can help you feel connected to the larger world around you.  
  • You have permission to not “make nice” or be gracious with your abuser for the sake of their comfort or the comfort of others.  

If your friends or family don’t believe or support you: 

  • While it may seem like family comes before everything when you return home, your well-being should be your top priority.  
  • Remember that harmful, unsupportive, or insensitive behaviors and words of your friends or family is not your problem—it’s theirs. You are deserving of love, support and protection.  

When you get back to campus 

Support and resources are available to you, including the confidential services offered by UHS. Survivor Services provides free, confidential advocacy, mental health, and medical services to UW–Madison student survivors of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and/or stalking.

Advocates are available to assist with accommodations, information about rights and reporting options, accompaniments, referrals, and consultations. If you would like to speak with an advocate, call (608) 265-5600 option 3 or email survivorservices@uhs.wisc.edu. A complete list of support options for survivors on campus and in the Madison area can be found  at uhs.wisc.edu/survivor-resources.