Someone Told Me They Experienced Sexual Violence
What to Expect When Someone Discloses
Each survivor has their own personal experience, emotions, and ways of coping. This is shaped by age, gender, race, ability, class and other social factors.
When they disclose to you, they may:
- Be incredibly sad and crying
- Appear flat or calm
- Exhibit memory loss
- Demonstrate an inability to concentrate
- Have a panic attack
- Be unsure, questioning
- Or any combination of emotions
These and other reactions are normal to a traumatic event. There is no right or wrong way to act when telling one’s story of sexual violence.
If someone discloses an experience of sexual violence to an employee of the univeristy, the employee is required to complete the Sexual Violence Disclosure & Referral Form (PDF) and submit it to the Sexual Violence Case Manager. This form does not collect identifying information about the survivor and is used for statistical purposes. The form can be completed with the survivor, or without.
Completed forms can be submitted to: email@example.com or dropped off at Student Health Services, 4th Floor Student Centre.
Steps to Take
Remember, a disclosure of a sexual violence experience does not mean the survivor wants to report (take action with the university or law enforcement). If someone discloses to you that they have experienced sexual violence, believe them, listen to them and validate them. Then follow the steps below...
1) Make sure the person is safe
- Contact the police (911) if the person (or others) is in immediate danger or needs medical attention.
- They may need to change their locks or install a surveillance camera or outdoor lights, even move. Respect their decision and help them, if necessary.
2) Offer your support
People who have experienced sexual violence need the support of their families and friends. Survivors may feel ashamed, embarrassed, depressed and frightened. They may or may not want to talk about what happened. Be ready to listen when they are ready. Let them know you care about them and do not blame them for what happened. No one wants or deserves to experience sexual violence. They may feel guilty, but what happened is not their fault. You can be a great help by telling them it is not their fault and helping them report it to authorities, if they wish to do so.
A person may choose to confide in someone about an act of sexual violence, such as a student, instructor, teaching assistant, coach or staff from Residence, counselling or security. An individual who has experienced sexual violence may also disclose to staff or faculty members when seeking support and/or academic accommodation. A supportive response involves:
- Listening without judgment and accepting the disclosure as true by demonstrating that you believe them.
- Communicating that sexual violence is never the responsibility of the survivor.
- Helping the individual identify and/or access available on- or off-campus services, including emergency medical care and counselling.
- Respecting the individual’s right to choose the services they feel are most appropriate and deciding whether to report to the police.
- Recognizing that disclosing can be traumatic and an individual’s ability to recall the events may be limited.
- Respecting the individual’s choices as to what and how much they disclose about their experience.
- Respecting confidentiality and anonymity.
3) Take action if required.
If the survivor/situation applies to the scenarios listed below, you are required to contact the police, 902-490-5020.
- the survivor is under the age of 16.
- the survivor is aged 16-19 and the person who caused harm is a parent or legal guardian.
- the incident involves explicit images of an individual under the age of 18.
4) Refer the person to other resources if necessary
- Help the person explore their options and go with them if they wish, for emotional support. Let them choose which services or resources they wish to use.
- If you are unable to emotionally distance yourself or to provide the appropriate support for meeting their needs, provide them with information on other professionals and advise them of your limitations.
5) Practice self-care
Supporting a survivor is not always easy. Make sure you find support for yourself. These are some questions to ask yourself. Have you:
- Eaten today?
- Drank water today?
- Rested today?
- Walked or exercised today?
A more extensive list can be found here.
Resources That Can Help You
For more information on Sexual Violence, you can take this course: Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence