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Supporting survivors of sexual assault: what you need to know

If someone chooses to disclose to you, here’s what you can do to help
May 6, 2014
By Sara DuBreuil

Photo by Concordia University
Photo by Concordia University

According to national statistics, one in four Canadian women and one in six Canadian men will self-report some form of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Many more incidents will go unreported.

Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) opened its doors last November under the auspices of Student Services. In addition to individualized services and volunteer opportunities, the centre offers a resource library designed to help sexual assault survivors; it also works to raise awareness about consent across the university. Workshops and presentations are provided with the same goals in mind.

The SARC put out a call for volunteers in February, and has since trained 15 Concordia students to offer support to survivors. These volunteers agree to undertake a weekly shift at the centre’s resource room, and some of them have also led initiatives such as an art group for survivors and their allies.

Tara, a new SARC volunteer, describes the work as fulfilling. “Sexual assault is something that happens too often in our society. It’s rewarding to do my part to provide a safe atmosphere for those who have been affected.”

Whether or not you’re a SARC volunteer, it’s crucial to know how to support a person who has experienced sexual assault.

“Being part of a community means taking care of each other, acknowledging experiences, listening and supporting.” says Jennifer Drummond, Concordia’s SARC coordinator. “We all have a role to play in preventing sexual violence and supporting survivors.”

Here are Drummond’s five recommendations on how to respond if someone discloses to you.

5 ways to support a survivor of sexual assault

1. Listen: This might be the most important thing anyone can do. Let survivors express themselves in their own words and at their own pace, with as much or as little detail as they feel comfortable sharing. Learning active listening skills is a key part of the volunteer training offered at the centre.

2. Believe: Often, survivors of sexual assault are met with disbelief and judgement when they disclose. Remember, though, that they are the ones who went through it, and they are telling you what happened.

3. Accept: Disclosing is not easy for anyone. Accept what the survivor is telling you without minimizing or dramatizing the facts, emotions and consequences.

4. Respect: Some survivors may want to seek medical care and counselling, and/or press charges, while others may not. Whatever the case, the choice is theirs and you must respect their decision. The actions they choose to take are part of their unique process of moving forward.

5. Reassure: Always reassure survivors that they are not to blame for what happened to them. Sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator.

Are you interested in volunteering at the Sexual Assault Resource Centre? Training sessions will be offered throughout the academic year. To request a volunteer application form,
email the SARC’s coordinator Jennifer Drummond.


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