Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Violence
The Hamline community cares about those who have been impacted by sexual misconduct, including supportive loved ones—family, friends, and significant others. Below, we have included information on helpful ways to support a survivor for anyone who might be in contact with a survivor of sexual misconduct.
If you are interested in becoming an educator, advocate, or supporter in the prevention of sexual misconduct, check out prevention and training to learn about various ways of getting involved.
Understanding and supporting survivors
The assistance you can offer will depend on the nature, timing and ongoing effects of the incident(s).
If a student turns to you in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault (within approximately 120 hours of the incident)
- Help the student find a safe environment
- Advise the student to seek medical attention as soon as possible—we recommend Regions Hospital
- Advise the student to preserve evidence
- Let the student know you are not confidential and if that is what they want/need, get them to that resource
If you learn that a student is being harassed or stalked
- Encourage the survivor to ask that the behavior stop, if safe
- Encourage the student to document incidents and keep evidence
- Refer the student to appropriate campus authorities
BLASER model by Cordelia Anderson
Believe: Research shows that overwhelmingly people don’t lie about sexual violence, and being believed is essential
Listen: Listen carefully, respectfully, and as non-judgmentally as possible
Affirm: Affirm what the person is saying and feeling without imposing your own feelings or beliefs
Support: Give what support you are able to the person coming forward
Empower: Pay attention to clues about how they feel and let them make decisions about what they want to do or have happen
Refer: Just as they came to you for help, you need to go to someone else for help
What should you communicate to a survivor?
- “I’m sorry that this situation has happened."
- “It’s not your fault.”
- “You are not alone.”
Be sure to communicate that the Title IX Coordinator will need to be informed and you want to discuss what the survivor's options are for reporting and for support.
- “I want to help connect you with resources on campus. We have confidential resources as well as others like our Title IX Office.”
Find out if they are safe in their classes, living environment, and other activities on campus. Let them know that the Title IX Coordinator or Deputy can and will help support them and assist with accommodations on campus.
Advice to remember
- Be calm. If you are in crisis, the victim may feel the need to take care of you rather than themselves. Be aware if the importance of separating your own experiences and emotions from them.
- Be informed. Learn about the services available for victims on campus and in the community and be able to assist them in connecting to resources.
- If they choose to report to law enforcement and/or the university, support them in that choice. If they want to talk to a confidential resource, help them connect there as well.
- Understand that it is normal for the person to experience a wide range of emotions and reactions.
What are the signs that a student may have experienced sexual violence?
When sexual contact isn’t consensual, the aftermath can be devastating to the victim in many areas of life. Survivors may experience anxiety and fear, difficulty in relationships, and/or a drop in academic performance. Some may withdraw/transfer or drop out of school.
Additional potential feelings and reactions
Not all students experience these signs or symptoms, and some may occur because of other issues.
- Shock and disbelief
- A feeling of “why me?”
- Flashbacks and/or nightmares
- Acute distress and/or severe anxiety
- Multiple fears (of death, attacker, or other situations)
- Loss of self-esteem
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Dysfunctional behaviors
Did you witness someone harassing, abusing, or acting violently toward others?
We all have a role in preventing sexual assault and harassment through bystander intervention. Through awareness and action, you can be the person who stops a situation from escalating or continuing. We encourage you to use the SEE Model: Safe Responding, Early Intervention, and Effective Helping.
The welfare of the student and the campus community is the top priority when a student displays or threatens violent behavior. Coordinated professional help and follow-up care are essential.
Trust your instincts
It is important to pay attention to your gut feelings. Seek consultation from the Title IX Office, Dean of Students Office, or Safety and Security. Promptly report safety concerns or conduct code violations.
Listen sensitively and carefully
Distressed students need to be heard and helped, but they may have difficulty articulating their feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, feel confused, or have thoughts of harming themselves or others.
Use syllabus to inform students in writing of the expectations for campus/classroom conduct including the Title IX Statement and devote time to reviewing this information with your students.
Distressed students can be sensitive. The Dean of Students Office and Counseling and Health Services can help you identify appropriate resources to assist students. We have a behavioral consultant team that can be brought together by either by the Dean of Students Office or counseling and health services. We will talk with you, hear your concerns, and work to create solutions and assistance.
Help them get help
Refer the student to campus departments or offices that have the expertise and personnel to help them. The Counseling and Health Services along with the Dean of Students Office and/or Title IX Office can help you identify appropriate resources.
Work as a team
Share information and consult with the appropriate university officials to coordinate care and follow-up for the student. Violent, threatening, or persistent inappropriate behaviors should always be reported to the Dean of Students Office, Title IX Office, and/or Safety and Security.
Particularly with interpersonal traumas like sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, or sexual harassment, survivors may think that they should have prevented the crime through changes in their own behavior. This makes it difficult to heal because survivors feel guilty instead of putting blame where it belongs: On the perpetrator. No one asks to be traumatized, and no one deserves to be traumatized, no matter what they do. It is the choice of a perpetrator to inflict a trauma, not the choice of the survivor. Survivors often have an easier time healing if they focus on what they did right during an assault rather than what they may have wished they did differently. Think about how the trauma was survived and recognize that, rather than blaming survivors for what they might have done differently.
Survivors have the right to be believed, and it can be very painful if someone questions whether the situation was interpreted in the right way or if someone does not believe a survivor. Especially with intimate traumas, like sexual assault or domestic violence, it may be hard for others to believe what happened. With sexual harassment or stalking, some people believe myths of flattery and may think survivors are overreacting.
Survivors should try not to take it personally if someone does not believe what happened, although some individuals find this difficult. People find sexual violence hard to believe for many reasons, and many survivors experience disbelief in one or more relationships. Remember, there are people in this community who will believe and support survivors, and finding a good advocate/advisor or a supportive friend will most likely help individuals have a less difficult experience when disclosing trauma.
Stages of healing
Everyone’s experience with sexual assault is different. Below are some examples of what can happen as you heal from this trauma. Remember that healing is a process, and you may experience any, all or none of the following. It is important that you cope with these feelings at your own pace and in your own ways.
This phase occurs immediately after the assault. During this stage the survivor may:
- Seem agitated or they may appear totally calm (a sign that they could be in shock)
- Have crying spells and anxiety attacks
- Have difficulty concentrating, making decisions and doing simple, everyday tasks
- Show little emotion, act as though numb or stunned
- Have poor recall of the sexual assault or other memories
Outward adjustment phase
During this phase, the survivor resumes what appears to be from the outside their "normal" life. Inside, however, there is considerable turmoil which can manifest itself by any of the following behaviors:
- Sense of helplessness
- Persistent fear and/or depression
- Severe mood swings
- Vivid dreams, recurrent nightmares, insomnia
- Physical ailments
- Appetite disturbances (e.g. nausea, vomiting, compulsive eating)
- Efforts to deny the assault ever took place and/or to minimize its impact
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and loved ones
- Preoccupation with personal safety
- Reluctance to leave the house and/or go places which remind the victim of the sexual assault
- Hesitation about forming new relationships with others and/or distrustful of existing relationships
- Sexual problems
- Disruption of normal everyday routines (e.g., suddenly high absenteeism at work or, conversely, working longer than usual hours, dropping out of school, traveling different routes, going out only at certain times)
During this phase, the sexual assault is no longer the central focus in the survivor’s life. The survivor begins to recognize that while they may never forget the assault, the pain and memories associated with it are lessening. They have accepted the sexual assault as a part of their life experience and are choosing to move on from there. Some of the behaviors of the second phase may flare up at times, but they do so less frequently and with less intensity.
Information borrowed from the Eastern Oregon University "Sex Matters" website, copyright 2006.
It is important to have a common language of terms and definitions around sexual misconduct and harassment, and discrimination based on gender identity and expression to aid in reporting, prevention, and support. Learn more about definitions.