How to respond to a sexual violence disclosure
When someone tells you about their experience with sexual violence, your response means a lot.
There are many reasons why someone may disclose to you. You may be a trusted friend or mentor and they need support and a listening ear.
Someone could also disclose to a professor or teaching assistant because they are suffering from psychological or physical consequences of assault and are not able to meet their academic deadlines, study for exams or attend classes.
Jennifer Drummond is coordinator of the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) at Concordia. She says the most important thing you can do is listen without judgment and be present for the person.
“One of the biggest barriers to someone disclosing is that they are afraid of not being believed or of being blamed. So, when a survivor does disclose sexual violence, it is imperative that the response is, ‘I believe you. It’s not your fault.’”
Drummond also suggests the following:
- Ask the questions, “How can I help?” and “What do you need?”
- Explain that what they tell you is confidential.
- Provide information about resources such as the SARC.
- Offer to accompany them to access resources.
- Respect their decision about the next steps.
Someone’s reaction to experiencing sexual violence is complicated, as it could involve mutual friends or a respected authority figure.
“When hearing about a person’s experience of sexual violence, it is normal to want to take action or give advice,” Drummond says. However, she encourages a response that puts the survivor in charge.
“It is important for the survivor to have control over next steps, and this means respecting their choices.”
What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes sexual assault and sexual harassment. These forms of violence can occur both on- and off-line.
Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact without voluntary consent.
Sexual harassment is a course of unwanted remarks or behaviours of a sexual nature and/or based on gender, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.
What if I am informed of an immediate incident of sexual violence?
For an on-campus situation requiring immediate emergency assistance, call Security at 514-848-3717.
For situations requiring immediate medical attention, call 911.
For situations requiring support for survivors, call the SARC coordinator at 514-848-2424, ext. 3353.
Find out more about how to provide support for survivors of sexual violence. Also, as a member of the university community, you're invited to provide feedback on the progress made from Concordia's Sexual Assault Policy Review recommendations.