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Advice for Supporters

Advice For Supporters

How should I support a student who has been sexually assaulted

She/he may be worried about being disbelieved, therefore it is important to reassure him/her that you do believe her/his disclosure of sexual assault because survivors tend to respond with disbelief to lessen their own feelings of vulnerability to assault.

She/he may be worried that the assault was her/his fault and that she/he is to be blamed. To help the student explain why she/he believes it is her/his fault; you may need to respond with understanding that she/he wishes there was something she/he could have done to prevent the assault. She/he may also be reassured to hear that no one ever deserves to be assaulted; however, she/he may take little comfort in that if she/he is using self-blame to regain feelings of control over personal safety.

The reported assailant may be someone you know. Eighty to ninety percent of sexual assaults on a college campus are committed by acquaintances. If you know the person, you may struggle with your own feelings of disbelief that she/he could be capable of such behavior. However, false reports of sexual assault are very rare.

She/he may benefit from a friend or advocate accompanying him/her to appointments. This may entail an Emergency Room visit or an appointment at the YWCA. Ask if a friend can be helpful by accompanying her/him. The YWCA of Grand Rapids provides advocates to accompany survivors as well. Individual’s coping strategies can vary. Some find talking about the assault helpful and others do not. You may want to let the student know that you are available to her/him at any time she/he may want to talk about the experience, but only if you are comfortable with this. Even if she/he chooses not to discuss it is helpful to check in with her/him. It is important to acknowledge that this is a stressful time for her/him. If you are not comfortable continuing to speak with the student about this incident, recommend the people she/he could talk to (e.g., Student Affairs Office, Housing and Residential Life Professional Staff, DU Counseling, YWCA staff, WellConnect phone call).

There are psychological and medical risks that may follow untreated sexual assault. Many students attempt to minimize or deny their experience. This approach may make them unwilling to get necessary medical and emotional care. If the student is unwilling to follow-up with medical evaluation and counseling, be as persuasive as possible and try to help her/him keep her/his appointments. You may have your own questions and concerns. Please feel free to contact the Student Affairs Office at 616-554-5309 to discuss your specific questions.

What do I say to a traumatized person?

First, prepare a comfortable environment that is: Safe—away, Quiet, Private

What should I not do?

  • Do not suggest that the student have any future contact with the perpetrator.
  • Do not contact parents. If the student wants parents contacted a Title IX coordinator will do so.
  • Do not insist that the student utilize any particular option, such as police notification, no matter how strongly you think it would be the right thing to do.
  • Do not threaten violence or other retaliation against the perpetrator.
  • Do not touch the student without her/his permission, not even to give him/her a hug or reassuring pat.
  • Do not let the conversation go on indefinitely. Work patiently toward determining the next steps.
  • Do not offer shower, fresh clothes, or food (in case of oral assault or possible need for surgery) if the student is going to have a medical examination within the next few hours.
  • Do not provide health care, even Advil or a Band-Aid, unless you are a medical professional.
  • Do not disclose your own history of being victimized.
  • Do not make decisions that the student can make for herself/himself.

What are common reactions to trauma?

  • Guilt often presented as ethical self-criticism
  • Inward posture(holding arms & legs close to body)
  • Fluctuations in physical presentation such as posture, facial expression, eye contact
  • Difficulty recalling events, changes in the story of the incident
  • Displaced feelings (angry at friend, submissive toward health care provider)
  • Protecting perpetrator
  • Denial of the impact of the event
  • Jumpy, easily startled
  • Confusion about what happened, what to do or a feeling like he or she can't make any decisions