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Supporting Victims/Survivors




We use the language “victims/survivors” to acknowledge individuals may identify with different terminology and identities related to their experience. We encourage people to mirror and reflect the language someone uses, which may include “victim,” “survivor,” or other terminology.

When an individual discloses an experience of harassment, sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and/or stalking with someone else, that person’s response can have a significant impact on the individual’s healing process. A person’s response could impact whether they reach out for additional help and support. Sometimes individuals may disclose to someone in person, while others may share openly about their experience through an online platform or public opportunity to speak out.

Any individual can experience harassment, sexual violence, interpersonal violence, and/or stalking, regardless of their identities. Individuals of marginalized communities, however, often face higher rates of harassment and violence and additional barriers in seeking help and support. Violence intersects with the different identities an individual holds and can impact how someone experiences violence and/or harassment, responds to trauma, accesses help and support, makes decisions about reporting, or moves forward in their coping and healing.

Whether you are a friend, family member, Resident Advisor, professor, or staff member, there are things you can do and say to support an individual who discloses an incident to you. Listening, validating them, and finding information about resources can be a great place to start. It is incredibly important to respect an individual’s decisions in what help and support they seek and to let them lead the way in their coping and healing.

As a friend or family member, it can be extremely difficult to know someone you care about has experienced sexual assault, interpersonal (relationship) violence, and/or stalking. It is important to remember they have had their power and control taken away from them. You can help them start to regain control by listening to them, asking if they would like information and options, and always respect their decisions. There is not a set timeline for coping or healing, and it is important to provide support along the way—even weeks, months, or years later. There is no typical or standard way someone responds to experiencing interpersonal or sexual violence. The best course of action to help someone is to ask them what they need and offer to connect them with professional support. Below are suggestions for ways to navigate how to help:

  • Seek immediate professional help if your friend or loved one displays any suicidal or self-harming behaviors or if you are worried about their emotional or physical well-being. You can encourage them to connect with a resource for emotional support. You can also call UNC Police and ask them to do a well-being check, or you could fill out a Care Referral Form through the Office of the Dean of Students.
  • Believe your friend or loved one. Individuals can have varied responses to trauma, and it is very common for the person who experienced the trauma to have gaps in memory, not remember details, or share information in bits and pieces. It is important to validate what they share with you and let them know you believe them.
  • Let your friend or loved one make decisions about how they want to cope with their experience. Some individuals might want to connect with resources for help and support immediately, and others might want to wait. Some individuals might want to report to the police and/or the University, and some may not. Let your friend or loved one lead the way in what they need, and they feel is helpful: offer to gather information, connect with resources, and support them in their decisions when they are ready.
  • Manage your own emotions. As survivors might experience a range of emotions, you might as well. It is okay to share your feelings, but make sure you are focusing on their emotions. Seek your own support  so that you can support your friend or loved one. Support is available for you as a secondary survivor who is supporting your loved one through their healing process.
  • Avoid judgement or blame you may feel towards your friend or loved one regarding any circumstances surrounding the incident. Remember nothing they did justifies someone else harming them. How you react to the information may be very different then how they are reacting. Follow their lead.
  • Recognize your friend or loved one’s need for privacy. Your friend or loved one’s boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after an incident. While it can be human nature to want details and to ask questions, focus more on what they need in the moment and moving forward. Avoid sharing information about their experience with others unless they give you explicit permission.
  • Take care of yourself. Educate yourself about sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and stalking. You can learn more about responding to trauma (information below), coping strategies, and what an individual’s healing process may look like. Many resources on campus and in the community are also available to help support friends and family members.
  • Check in with your friend or loved one. Talk with them to see what seems most helpful moving forward. Sometimes individuals want to talk and process their experience, and sometimes they want to work toward returning to their normal routines, interactions, etc. Be open to letting them guide whether, when, and how they talk about their experiences, and ask what seems helpful moving forward. Would they like you to check in explicitly around their experience, or would they prefer to initiate conversation about this with you?

Friends and family members can seek support from the Gender Violence Services Coordinators, Orange County Rape Crisis Center, Compass Center, RAINN, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline

To learn more about supporting someone, please consider these resources:

RAINN: Help Someone You Care About

National Domestic Violence Hotline: Help for Friends and Family

Love is Respect: Help my Parent

Love is Respect: Help my Child

RAINN: Help Someone You Care About

Love is Respect: Help a Friend

Love is Respect: Help a Roommate

As a faculty or staff member, you might be the person a student or colleague trusts to share their experience. It may be extremely difficult for faculty or staff to know someone in their space has experienced sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and/or stalking. It is important to remember they have had their power and control taken away from them. You can help them regain it by listening, asking what they need, offering to provide information and options, and respecting their decisions. There is not a timeline for coping or healing, and it is important to provide support along the way—even weeks, months, or years later.

  • Believe them. Individuals can have varied responses to trauma, and it is very common to have gaps in memory, not to remember details, or to share information in bits and pieces. It is important to validate what they share with you and let them know you believe them.
  • Let them know if you are a Responsible Employee and/or a Campus Security Authority. If you are a Responsible Employee or Campus Security Authority, make a practice of sharing that status regularly before someone discloses to you. If a student or colleague starts to share something with you that feels personal, let them know you will need to share information about the incident with the Equal Opportunity and Compliance (EOC) office. Sharing information with the EOC office does not necessarily trigger a formal response by the University; the EOC’s response will focus on providing resources to the individual and offering to help them connect with any support they might need. If you are a responsible employee and have questions about this process you are encouraged to contact the EOC.
  • Seek immediate professional help if the individual displays any suicidal or self-harming behaviors or if you are worried about their emotional or physical well-being. You can encourage them to connect a resource for emotional support,  or you can call UNC Police and ask them to do a well-being check or fill out a Care Referral Form through the Office of the Dean of Students.
  • Let the individual make decisions about how they want to cope with their experience. Some individuals might want to connect with resources for help and support immediately, and others might want to wait a bit. Some individuals might want to report to the police and/or the University, and some might not. Let them lead the way in what they need and what seems helpful to seek out: offer to gather information, connect with resources, and support them in their decisions when they are ready.
  • Manage your own emotions. As an individual might experience a range of emotions, you might as well. It is okay to share your feelings, but make sure you are focusing on their emotions. Seek out your own support so that you can support them.
  • Avoid judgement or blame you may feel towards your friend regarding any circumstances surrounding the incident. Remember nothing they did justifies someone harming them.
  • Recognize the individual’s need for privacy. The individual’s boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after an incident. While it can be human nature to want details and ask questions, focus more on what your loved one needs in the moment and moving forward. Avoid sharing information about their experience with others unless they give you explicit permission.
  • Take care of yourself. Educate yourself about sexual assault, interpersonal violence, or stalking. You can also learn more about trauma responses, coping strategies, and what an individual’s healing process could look like. Many resources on campus and in the community are also available to help support you, too.
  • Check in with them. Talk with the individual to see what seems most helpful for them moving forward. Sometimes individuals want to talk and process their experience, and sometimes they want to work toward returning to their normal routines, interactions, etc. Be open to letting them guide whether, when, and how they talk about their experiences, and ask what seems helpful moving forward. Would they like you to check in explicitly around their experience or would they prefer to initiate conversation about this with you?

Employees can seek support from the Gender Violence Services Coordinators, Orange County Rape Crisis Center, Compass Center, RAINN, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline

To learn more about supporting a student or colleague, please consider these resources:

Include a Syllabus Statement

All instructors are encouraged to consider the impact of interpersonal (relationship) and sexual violence on the students in their class. One way to do this is to include in their syllabus a statement encouraging students affected by discrimination, harassment, and sexual or interpersonal violence to seek appropriate resources and support. There are several reasons why such a syllabus statement is helpful for survivors:

  • This statement normalizes the process for seeking support and reporting violence, and helps to create a positive and welcoming environment for students who have experienced violence.
  • This statement also serves as a reminder to all members of the UNC community that approximately one quarter of our students experience sexual or interpersonal violence, either before or during their college years.
  • Finally, for faculty members who may be discussing triggering topics in their classes, the statement starts a conversation about the connection between personal experiences and academic inquiry.

The following is an example of a syllabus statement that can be used for your course:

Any student who is impacted by discrimination, harassment, interpersonal (relationship) violence, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, or stalking is encouraged to seek resources on campus or in the community. Please contact the Director of Title IX Compliance, Report and Response Coordinators, Counseling & Psychological Services (confidential), or the Gender Violence Services Coordinators (confidential) to discuss your specific needs. Additional resources are available at safe.unc.edu.

Schedule a Guest Lecturer or Consult on Curriculum

Regardless of your discipline, consider having a guest lecturer come in the next time you need to cancel class. Alternatively, if you will be addressing violence and harassment in the content of your curriculum, staff are available to consult with you regarding information and/or resources on campus. The following staff members can consult with you or present guest lectures on various topics in classes or to student groups about prevention of and response to incidents of sexual violence, interpersonal violence and stalking.

EOC Office

Carolina Women’s Center

Prepare Students for Graphic Material

Instructors who include readings/films/discussions that include subject matter related to interpersonal or sexual violence are encouraged to consider incorporating information which indicates discussions may take place in the classroom around these topics. Class discussions may be difficult for some people who have experienced or been impacted by violence or harassment. Content warnings can help those individuals prepare for the discussion and remind others in the space that the issue must be approached from a place of thoughtfulness and respect because the discussion goes beyond abstract issues to the lived experiences of some students in the classroom. Many times, these students are able to handle graphic material by preparing in advance. Other times, they may need to take a bathroom break or leave class if they are feeling overwhelmed.

A content warning can help empower those who have experienced violence and harassment by allowing them to choose when and where they may be exposed to graphic material, and to develop resiliency to this material over time. Additionally, warnings that include information directing people to resources help to normalize that getting help is normal. Regardless of a student’s experience, these warnings can help students understand that if they feel that class material is upsetting, the healthy thing to do is to take care of themselves outside of class.

Example of a statement: All participants in this class should be aware that we will have frank discussions about [topics such as sexual assault, interpersonal violence, graphic physical violence, sexual health, sexuality, identity-based harassment and discrimination, etc.] during this course. Certain readings and discussions may be difficult for survivors, secondary survivors, and non-survivors alike. Any student who is impacted by harassment, interpersonal (relationship) violence, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, or stalking is encouraged to seek appropriate resources on campus or in the community. As needed, please contact confidential resources such as the Gender Violence Services Coordinator in the Carolina Women’s Center at (919) 962-1343 or Counseling & Psychological Services in Campus Health Services at (919) 966-3658 to discuss your specific needs.

As applicable: You will see a star (*) next to certain texts. These readings may be particularly difficult for some students as they contain graphic depictions of [topics such as pornography, sexual assault, relationship abuse, harassment, or other forms of violence].

Supporting a friend, family member, colleague, or student who has experience sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and/or stalking can be tough and can have an impact on the individual providing support. It is important to prioritize your self-care so that you can support them. Even if the individual is not ready to seek support, you can access confidential support for yourself. Here are some resources that can help you process, explore impact, and connect with help and support you might be needing. These resources can offer guidance on how to be a support for the person you care about.

  • Gender Violence Services Coordinators (GVSCs) | On Campus | Confidential | Monday – Friday | 9 am – 5 pm
    • GVSC Website
    • Email: gvsc@unc.edu
    • Phone: 919-962-1343
    • Location: The Sonja Haynes Stone Center Suite 101 (150 South Road)
    • To schedule a meeting, you may email or call the GVSCs. Dates and times available for drop-in hours in the LGBTQ Center may be found on the GVSC website.
    • This resource is for students (undergraduate, graduate, professional and doctoral), employees, and post-doctoral scholars.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) | On Campus | Confidential | M-T 9 am – 12 pm and 1 – 4 pm; F 930 am – 12 pm and 1-4 pm
    • CAPS Website
    • Phone: 919-966-3658
    • Location: James A. Taylor Building 3rd Floor (320 Emergency Room Drive)
    • For an initial visit, you may go to CAPS during the hours specified above.
    • This resource is for all degree-seeking students and post-doctoral scholars who pay the current term Campus Health fee.
  • Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC) | Off campus | Confidential | 24 hours / 7 days a week
    • OCRCC Website
    • Phone helpline: 866-935-4783 Text helpline: 919-504-5211 Online Chat: http://ocrcc.org
    • Location: 1506 E. Franklin Street Suite 200, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
    • This resource is for individuals in Orange County, North Carolina.
  • Compass Center | Off Campus | Confidential | 24 hours / 7 days a week
    • Compass Center Website
    • Phone helpline: 919-929-7122
    • Location: 210 Henderson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
    • This resource is for individuals in Orange County, North Carolina.

To learn more about seeking support for yourself, please consider these resources:

RAINN: Self-Care

HAVEN Training

HAVEN (Helping Advocates for Ending Violence Now) is a collaboration between the Equal Opportunity and Compliance office, the Carolina Women’s Center, and Student Wellness. It provides students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral students with tools to be an ally to someone who has experience sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and/or stalking. This training emphasizes the importance of listening, responding compassionately, and connecting survivors to resources on campus and in the community. HAVEN trainings are available for undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty.

Note:

We appreciate your patience as we develop a virtual HAVEN program that is engaging, meets our learning goals, and captures the unique opportunity to practice the skills we teach. We plan to open the virtual HAVEN in January for organizations and departments, and we’re looking forward to hearing and integrating your feedback into the program.

The new HAVEN format will include

  • A Sakai page where you can find and access up-to-date HAVEN materials at any time
  • Three introductory videos that you will watch on your own time
  • One small group training live via Zoom with HAVEN facilitators and other workshop participants

Dates for virtual HAVEN Trainings will begin during the spring semester. To be notified when public trainings become available or to schedule a training for your department or organization, please fill out the form below. If you have questions about the program, please email haven@unc.edu.

Click here to register!

What is trauma?

Trauma is a psychological and emotional response to an event or experience—including sexual assault, interpersonal violence and/or stalking—that is emotionally distressing and overwhelming. Often, trauma can impact someone beyond their ability to cope effectively. Trauma is a normal response to an abnormal event and can vary for everyone. Trauma responses can be immediate or delayed, and they can change over time. There are resources (link to emotional support page) available for individuals in exploring their trauma and its impact, their response to trauma, and how to manage and cope with trauma.

What are some symptoms of trauma?

Physical

  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Low energy
  • Aches, pains, and muscle tension
  • Being startled easily
  • Hyperactivity
  • Panic attacks
  • Increase or decrease in desire for sexual activity
  • Self-harm
  • Increase or decrease in physical activities

Emotional

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Spontaneous crying
  • Depression, despair and hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Feeling isolated
  • Compulsive or obsessive behaviors
  • Feeling out of control
  • Guilt, shame, and self-blame
  • Irritability, anger, and resentment
  • Emotional numbness/no reaction
  • Withdrawal from normal routines and relationships
  • Intense need to be with other people

Cognitive

  • Gaps in memory, especially about the incident
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Decreased ability to concentrate or focus
  • Feeling distracted
  • Increased or decreased focus on academic or professional work

To learn more about trauma, please consider these resources:

Help Guide: Emotional and Psychological Trauma

RAINN: Sexual Violence Effects

What can a trauma response look like?

  • Flashbacks: temporarily losing touch with reality and feelings as if you are reliving the trauma in the present moment
  • Dissociation: detaching from reality, which some may describe as an “out of body” experience
  • Hypervigilance: being overly aware of your surroundings, as if all your senses are on high alert
  • Intrusive Thoughts or Memories: thoughts or memories of the trauma that are overwhelming and make it difficult to think about other things
  • Nightmares: unpleasant or frightening dreams, often directly or indirectly related to the trauma
  • Trigger: internal or external reminder cues of the trauma and can show up through any of the five senses

Individuals often describe various ways they did or did not respond in the moment of a trauma. When an individual’s brain and body recognize they are no longer feeling safe or comfortable, they might respond in a few different ways. There is not a “right” way to respond, and any response they have is valid. Sometimes individuals describe their response in these ways:

  • Fight
    • Individual responds ready to fight back physically and may experience feelings of rage, anger, and frustration
  • Flight
    • Individual feels anxious and may experience rapid breathing, restlessness or tenseness, urge to escape, might be capable of physically removing themselves from the situation
  • Freeze
    • Individual might feel stuck or like they cannot move, often feels cold, heavy, or stiff, some individuals might feel incredibly frightened or experience dissociation

To learn more about trauma responses, please consider these resources:

Help Guide: Coping with Emotional and Psychological Trauma

RAINN: Sexual Violence Effects

What are some ways to manage a trauma response?

Flashbacks, hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts or memories, nightmares, and triggers are all common reactions to a traumatic event or experience. They take individuals out of the present and often make them feel as if they are reliving the incident. There are different ways individuals cope with and work to manage their trauma. It can help to connect with professional support in exploring effective coping strategies. Practicing mindfulness techniques can also be helpful for some people. Below are a few exercises individuals might find helpful in grounding themselves in the present moment.

  • Focus on your breathing
    • You can find lots of websites and apps with guides and exercises!
  • Shift your sensory experience(s)
    • Sight: What are 5 things you can see from where you are? Describe them in detail.
    • Taste: Does drinking something cold or hot or eating something sweet or sour bring you into the present?
    • Touch: Do you have an animal you can pet? Or a stress ball or toy you can fidget with? Can you transfer a piece of ice from one hand to the other? Can you go outside and notice any change in temperature or sit in the sun?
    • Smell: Can you redirect your attention by focusing the smell of aromatherapy oils, candles, or your favorite food? Do you have a scented bar of soap you can smell?
    • Sounds: What do you hear in this moment? Is there someone you trust you can call to talk? Do you have a playlist? Can you try a mobile phone app for meditation or a soothing sounds?
  • Reorient yourself to the present space and time
    • Ask yourself questions such as:
      • Where am I?
      • What is today?
      • What is the date?
      • What is the weather like?
      • What is something I have already done today or am planning to do?

Sometimes individuals find it helpful to do something comfortable or distracting such as:

  • Listen to music
  • Curl up under a blanket
  • Cuddle with a pet or stuffed toy
  • Take a bath
  • Use art, journaling, or another creative outlet to process
  • Call a support person
  • Engage in a spiritual practice
  • Watch a non-triggering movie or show
  • Read a book
  • Move your body (e.g., exercise, dancing, sports, yoga, etc.)

To learn more about managing and coping with trauma, please consider these resources:

Help Guide: Coping with Emotional and Psychological Trauma

Love is Respect: Grounding Exercises

RAINN: Self-Care After Trauma

Any individual can experience harassment, sexual violence, interpersonal violence, and/or stalking, regardless of their identities. Individuals of marginalized communities, however, often face higher rates of harassment and violence and experience additional barriers in seeking help and support. Violence intersects with the different identities an individual holds and can impact how someone experiences violence and/or harassment, responds to trauma, accesses help and support, makes decisions about reporting, or moves forward in their coping and healing.  

Harassment, sexual violence, interpersonal violence, sexual exploitation, and stalking involve an imbalance of power and control dynamics among individuals. Identities such as race, class, ability, and gender are often used to maintain unhealthy and abusive power over an individual and perpetrate harm. Individuals who cause harm and engage in violence in this way may also use someone’s identities against them to prevent someone from reporting or seeking help. Individuals impacted by various forms of violence are the experts in their experiences and may have a variety of different needs related or unrelated to their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, national origin, abilities, and other identities. 

Resources on campus and in the community included on this site can help individuals process their experiences and impact and help identify support and resources specific to their needs.