Offer Your Support
Learn ways to offer your support to a sexual assault survivor.
It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, especially if they are a friend or family member. Sometimes support means providing resources. But often, listening is the best way to support a survivor.
When you want to help but you don’t know how, the Office of Title IX offers the following guidance.
As a Family Member or Friend
If your family member or friend has been harmed by sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking or sexual harassment, you probably want nothing more than to help them. Keep in mind there’s no instruction manual for helping a person who has been harmed in this way. Everyone is different. There’s no right or wrong reaction to trauma. Your family member or friend might completely shut down or go out of their way to seem “normal” — like nothing happened. But even in the midst of feeling sad, angry, uncomfortable, scared, confused or powerless, there are safe, healthy ways to support your family member or friend and yourself during this difficult time.
It takes courage for an individual to speak up. The single most important thing you can do to support your family member or friend is to tell them that you believe them and you are there for them. She/he is vulnerable, and your reaction can influence whether or not they choose to share information with others, including the police or mental and physical health services. Stay calm and non-judgmental. Tell them you believe them and want to support them however you can.
Listen actively and without judgment. As a family member or friend, your job is to listen, not investigate or question their account. Avoid asking questions or digging for details. It’s best to allow them to control what information they share. It might be difficult, but try to just listen.
Assure them that it’s not their fault — no matter what. Self-blame and self-doubt are common reactions to being harmed by sexual violence. As their family member or friend, assure and reassure them that what happened was not their fault.
Unless they give you permission to share or you’re contacted as a witness in an investigation, maintaining their privacy can be one of the most helpful things you can do for them. This includes not sharing what happened with mutual friends or on social media.
Let Them Take the Lead
It’s completely natural to want to fix things. That’s probably what makes you a good family member or friend. But know that dealing with and recovery from sexual assault or relationship violence is not fast and not in your control. A great step for you to take would be to offer advice or information about support services at Stephens or community resources, but the decision to get additional help is up to them. If they are anxious or scared to seek help from outside sources — even those you know could help — offer to go with them as their support system. Sometimes that’s all it takes to give them the confidence to take action.
While maintaining their privacy is very important, if your family member or friend will not seek support and you are very worried about their well-being, reach out yourself to one of the support services at Stephens, who will be able to offer suggestions.
You matter, too. Supporting a family member or friend who is dealing with trauma can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. Remember that you cannot effectively support them unless you take care of your own emotional, physical and mental health.
As much as you may wish you could take away their pain, often there is not much you can do other than be patient and compassionate. Those who have been harmed by sexual assault or relationship violence may take months or years to recover. These guidelines can help:
- Educate yourself about sexual assault, relationship violence and the healing process.
- Face what happened. Don’t try to smooth things over or “make it all better.”
- Listen to them actively and without judgment.
- Ask what they want and need and let them decide how to proceed after an assault.
- Validate their feelings.
- Recognize and express your own feelings about the assault.
- Encourage them to identify and utilize available support services at Stephens or community resources.
As a Stephens Faculty or Staff Member
In no event should the victim be told that your conversation will be confidential.
As a Stephens employee, you have an obligation under the Sex- and Gender-based Discrimination and Harassment Policy to advise the Title IX office if you witness or receive a report of a sex- or gender-based discrimination, harassment, misconduct or assault. Please familiarize yourself with the policy regarding this duty.
The You Are a Mandatory Reporter document outlines the process and provides resources for assisting individuals and fulfilling the College’s reporting requirements for employees.
As a faculty or staff member who sees your students regularly, you are in a unique position to detect behavioral changes, increased stress levels or academic deterioration that can signal a serious problem. Students value faculty and staff opinions. You are not expected to take on the role of counselor, but don’t underestimate your ability to share helpful information with your students about the support services at Stephens or community resources, especially if a student approaches you for help.
Supporting the Respondent
If someone confides in you that they’ve been accused of sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking, knowing what to do next can be hard. Feeling emotionally conflicted and confused about how to respond is natural. If someone accused turns to you for help, know that listening and referring them to support services at Stephens or community resources is an important way to show support.
Listen actively and without judgment. Listening isn’t condoning what may or may not have happened. You don’t need to take sides or even express your opinion at all. Just listen.
Getting educated about sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking can help you sort out your own feelings as well as provide better support.
Suggest On-Campus Resources & Counseling
The Title IX Team at Stephens has specially trained members of the faculty and staff to serve as process advisers for respondents.
- The Counseling Center is also available to student respondents free of charge.
- Encourage them to consult with the Title IX office for available resources to help any student or employee accused of sexual assault.
If there is an immediate crisis, call 911 or Campus Security Emergency at (573) 876-7299.
For all other concerns, call the Title IX office at (573) 876-7250 or Ext. 4250.