As a faculty or staff member, you may receive disclosures from students about violence they have experienced. Remember, the student is coming to you because they trust you. They don't expect that you can solve everything; they just need you to respond with care and concern, and to connect them with the right resources.
If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted or are in a controlling and abusive relationship, remember that you might be the first person they have told. Your response helps determine whether they feel safe and supported telling others or seeking additional help. They might not know how to say it or how to sort out their feelings, but they know something is wrong.
Ideally, try to be up-front with students about any limits on your ability to keep what they share between the two of you. For example, you may be required to act on information if it relates to someone you supervise or impacts the work environment, or if it involves a minor. Understanding these limits ahead of time can make it easier to explain them to students in the moment. And, explaining them as early as possible in a conversation will allow the student to make informed decisions about what to share.
Respond and connect
Neither you nor the student is in this alone. There are campus and community resources to help, and your job when responding to a disclosure is to connect with them. Try the following techniques to demonstrate care and concern to the student, and to get them warmly referred to support.
Be a good listener
It takes incredible strength and courage for someone to reveal that they were assaulted or that they are in an abusive relationship. After explaining any limits to confidentiality, let the student choose when they want to talk and how much to share.
Remind the student that this was not their fault, even if it seems obvious. Let them know that you believe them, and be non-judgmental in your approach. It's not your job to investigate, or to find out all the details about what happened. Focus on helping the student to feel supported, and keep any questions limited to ones about what they need and how you can help.
Make a warm referral
A warm referral is when you go beyond giving the student a phone number or email address, and instead actively work with the student to help them connect with support. Tell them what you know about the services that the confidential advocate can provide, or look at the website together. Offer to call with them in the moment, or to help them write an email requesting an appointment.
There may be times when a student is hesitant to connect with an on-campus resource, which is completely okay. If that's the case, try to get them connected with a community resource instead.
Anytime you receive a disclosure, or that you suspect a student may have experienced sexual or relationship violence, you're encouraged to consult with the confidential advocate. With the advocate, you can debrief how you responded to a student, discuss how a student's disclosure impacted you, explore other campus or community resources, and brainstorm ways to support a student who is showing signs of having experienced harm. Call 425-352-3851 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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