The response of the person to whom a survivor makes an initial disclosure has a significant impact on their healing process. Whether you are a friend, RA, professor, staff member or parent, there are things you can do to support a person who discloses an incident to you.  You can help by listening and believing them, providing them with information about resources available to them (download a quick reference guide for emergency situations or a comprehensive resource brochure), and supporting their choices about the resources they may need.

Tips for Parents

As a parent, it can be extremely difficult to know that your loved one has experienced sexual or interpersonal violence or stalking. It is important to remember that your student has had their power and control taken away from them. You can help them regain it by listening to them, providing them with options, and respecting their decisions.

  • Seek immediate professional help if your student displays any suicidal or self-harming behaviors or if you are worried about their emotional or physical well-being.
  • Believe what your student tells you. Don’t start doubting them if they have gaps in their memory or talk about different things at different times. It’s normal for details to come out in bits and pieces.
  • Let them make decisions about how they want to deal with their experience. For some, legal justice is not the primary goal. Healing looks different for each person. Pay attention to what your student is telling you about what they want.
  • Be open to talking with your student about what they’re experiencing even if it is uncomfortable. It’s perfectly okay to let them know that this is a difficult thing to talk about
  • Manage your own emotions. Don’t panic. If you become angry or overly upset, your student may find it harder to talk to you and may feel guilty for upsetting you. Share your feelings, but make sure your feelings don’t overwhelm theirs.
  • Separate the anger you may feel at your student for having broken any rules or using poor judgment from the anger that you feel about what happened to your student. Remember that nothing they did justifies someone else hurting them.
  • Recognize your student’s need for privacy. Their boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after a sexual assault.
  • Take care of yourself. Educate yourself about sexual assault and the healing process. Realize when you’ve reached your own limitations, and encourage your student to talk to a professional. As a parent of a survivor, you may have reactions of anger, sadness, and shame. Those are normal reactions! Find a supportive person or counselor with whom you can process your feelings so that your conversations with your student can focus on their needs.

Tips for Conversations with a Friend

  • Listen: This is the most important thing you can do. If someone is willing to share their experience with you, it is important that they can share without fear of being judged, rejected or blamed.
  • Assure them that it’s not their fault: Nothing a survivor does justifies someone hurting them. Violence is an intentional choice that a person makes to harm another person. No matter what your friend did or how much they were drinking, they do not deserve what is happening to them, nor did they cause it.
  • Give them options: Share information with them about resources. Let them choose what they want to do and support that choice, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Be there: Sometimes survivors want to talk and process their experiences, and sometimes they want to “get back to normal.” Be willing to listen when they want to talk. Be willing to stay in and watch movies, go out to a coffee shop or whatever other things you did as friends before the incident.
  • Get support: Supporting a friend who has experienced violence can be challenging. You don’t have to take on the role as their sole helper. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember that all of the resources available to a survivor are available to you, too.

Tips for Employees

  • Let them know your responsibilities if you are a Responsible Employee: Let them know that you are a responsible employee, which means that you will need to share information about the incident with the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office to help ensure their safety. Share with them that this does not necessarily trigger a formal response by the University. (Click here for more information.)
  • Listen: This is the most important thing you can do. If someone is willing to share their experience with you, it is important that they can share without fear of being judged, rejected or blamed.
  • Assure them that it’s not their fault: Nothing a survivor does justifies someone hurting them. Violence is an intentional choice that a person makes to harm another person.
  • Give them options: Share information with them about resources. Let them choose what they want to do and support that choice, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Be there: Sometimes survivors want to talk and process their experiences, and sometimes they want to “get back to normal”. Be willing to listen when they want to talk.
  • Fulfill reporting responsibilities if you are a Campus Security Authority: Share all known details of the incident with the Department of Public Safety. (Click here for more information).
  • Get support: Supporting someone who has experienced violence can be challenging. You don’t have to take on the role as their sole helper. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember that all of the resources available to a survivor are available to you, too.

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a child, friend, colleague or student who has experienced violence can inspire many different emotions. For this reason it is also important that you take care of yourself. Even if they are not ready to seek support, you can access confidential support. View information about available support options.

Learn More About Supporting Survivors

Sign up for HAVEN trainings to learn more about how to help survivors.