As members of the campus community, students, staff and faculty may receive disclosures of sexual violence. It is normal to feel nervous or uncomfortable about receiving a disclosure. People typically disclose to someone they trust, not because that person is an expert. You don’t have to be an expert to be supportive.
How to give support
1. Respect and confidentiality
It is vital to respect the person’s confidentiality and right to privacy, and to provide the person with a safe and comfortable space. Providing a safe and comfortable space ensures privacy, safety, and conveys to the person that they matter and are being taken seriously. This is an important first step to restoring a sense of dignity and to begin the healing process for the person.
Because a person who discloses will be very concerned about what you will do with the information that is shared, let them know that only the minimum amount of information necessary to address the risk will be disclosed and only to people who need to know. Once you are aware of whether you need to report the information, tell them exactly what information you will share and with whom you will share it.
Limits to confidentiality
In order to maintain trust and respect the privacy of the person disclosing, you must inform them that there are limits to the confidentiality of the conversation. The limits to confidentiality are:
- If there is a risk to self or others
- If there is a safety concern for the university community
- If there is a legal requirement to report (e.g., a minor or a vulnerable person)
2. Listen and believe
Often when someone experiences sexual violence, they fear that they will not be believed. During a disclosure, make sure you validate and acknowledge the person’s experience by being empathetic and non-judgemental. People who have experienced sexual violence often blame themselves for what happened. No matter what the person did or did not do, sexual violence is never the fault of the person who experienced it.
Additionally, do more listening than talking. Listening effectively, without judgment, is the best way to seek to understand what has happened, and to help the person in the way that they need. Be mindful of your choice of words, tone of voice, and body language, and make sure that the person disclosing is the one who is in charge of the conversation.
3. Ask what they need
Remember that the person who has experienced sexual violence is the only one who knows what is best for them. Rather than telling them what you think they should do, empower them to make their own decisions and help them explore their options.
4. Connect to Supports
Offer supports they have expressed they want to access and assist them in contacting those resources or offer to be with them when they do it.
It is a good idea to always offer the Klinic Sexual Assault Crisis Line to someone, as it is a 24/7 supportive service.
Share with the individual that supports and options are available to them. In addition to the UM Sexual Violence Resource Centre, there are also a number of supports listed on the Get support page.
It’s important to know that certain treatments, such as emergency contraception and certain infection prophylaxis are time limited. Emergency contraception is available up to 120 hours after an assault. Other medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections can be given up to 72 hours to two weeks after the assault. Time frames vary according to infection, so it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible.
If they have recently been assaulted and wish to receive medical care or have forensic evidence collected for a police investigation they should do so as soon as possible.
Where to receive medical attention
The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program not only provides medical treatment, but can also collect forensic evidence for a police investigation up to 72 hours after an assault has occurred for individuals who have not yet gone through puberty, and up to 240 hours for individuals ages 17 and older. Please note, having evidence collected does not require a person to go forward with a police investigation if they do not want to.
5. Check in
If appropriate, it can be a good thing to check in with the person following the initial disclosure to ensure they have received the support they need, although this may not be helpful or possible in every case.
Responding to a disclosure is difficult and can take a serious toll on you. Make sure to check in with yourself and take care of your well-being.
- Connect with counselling and wellness resources
- Faculty and staff: through the Employee & Family Assistance Program
- Students: through the Student Counselling Centre.
- You can also connect with your union for support if you are a unionized employee or student.
- Meet with an Elder
- Debrief with a supervisor, family member, friend or other support person in your life
- Connect with supports off campus, such as a counsellor or other support person
- Take time for self-care
Remember: you are always able to debrief the situation – without compromising confidentiality – by leaving out any identifying details.
UM students, staff and community members who are seeking information on sexual violence, or who are seeking support regarding an experience of sexual violence are encouraged to contact SVRC staff.