Faculty and staff frequently often serve as the initial contact person for students’ disclosures of experiences with sexual violence. Many students do not choose to file a report with law enforcement, because they do not think the incident was serious; they are fearful of repercussions or retaliation; they are afraid of parents or friends finding out; or because they fear that they will not be believed or will be treated with hostility. If someone is sharing with you, they likely consider you a trusted advisor.
Here’s what you can do to be supportive:
- Listen, without judgment. Listening is the single most important thing you can do. No one deserves to be the victim of violence, regardless of the circumstances. Avoid blaming the person for what occurred or asking questions that could imply fault, such as “How much were you drinking?” or “Why didn’t you call the police?” Let the individual know that what happened was not their fault and thank them for sharing with you. You do not need to repeat the explicit terms of the experience (e.g. rape, sexual assault, exploitation); just say, “I’m sorry you experienced that” or “I’m sorry that happened to you. No one deserves to experience that.”
- Thank them for telling someone. Acknowledge the act of disclosure and affirm that even telling someone about their experience takes strength and courage. You can simply say, “Thank you for trusting me and sharing that with me.”
- Tell them that you hear them and will support them. Victims of sexual violence are often met with doubt or disbelief when they decide to tell someone. Remember, you are not an investigator tasked with determining what happened, or if it really happened, or who is responsible. You are a trusted advisor they turned to for support; let them know that you hear them and will support them.
- Refer the person to designated resources. You are not expected to be an expert on these issues; however, you can direct the victim to the appropriate Support Resources on campus or in the community. If the incident involved bodily harm, you can let them know where they can access immediate medical attention.
- Support their decisions about how to proceed. Avoid giving advice or telling them what that they “should” or “must” do. You can encourage the person to report the incident or seek medical attention, while still respecting that the final decision is for them to make. One of the most important things you can do is let a survivor take back the power they lost in the incident(s). It is critical that a survivor feels empowered to make their own decisions about what their options are, and when and how they will choose to pursue them.
- Submit a report to the Title IX & Bias Harassment Coordinator. As mentioned earlier, all College employees who are not confidential resources must report information they have received about reported sexual misconduct to the Title IX & Bias Harassment Coordinator or Deputy Title IX Coordinators, ideally within 24 hours of learning about an incident. The information given to the Title IX & Bias Harassment Coordinator or Deputy Title IX Coordinators must include all relevant details, including the name of the individual reporting the allegation of sexual misconduct, the name(s) of the person(s) accused of the misconduct, other people involved in the incident, the date, time, and location of the incident.
- Follow up with the individual after the disclosure. Letting the person know that you take their disclosure seriously and that you care about their well-being can be extremely validating for a survivor. For example, begin the conversation with “I was thinking about the conversation we had the other day. Do you want to touch base about how you are doing? If not, that’s okay too.” It’s important to show your care, but also to offer real choices and to respect their wishes.
- Obtain information and support for yourself. Being exposed to issues related to sexual violence can be difficult and it is not uncommon for first responders to experience secondary/vicarious trauma. It may help to discuss your experiences or feelings with a professional.