SEXUAL VIOLENCE PREVENTION, EDUCATION and RESPONSE

Give Support

Many people arent sure what to do or say when someone discloses sexual violence. Please know that you do not need to be an expert to provide helpful, appropriate support.

If a MacEwan University community member discloses sexual violence to you, there are simple steps you can take:

  • Listen
  • Believe
  • Validate emotions
  • Explore options

These four steps can go a long way in helping a person feel heard and empowered to seek out further, ongoing support that feels right for them.

Here, we provide you with an overview of the skills you can use to supportively respond to disclosures. Contact the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator if you have questions or if you would like to learn more about giving support.

Contact Sexual Violence Response Coordinator

Please note that a disclosure is not a formal report. Explore the Report Sexual Violence section for more information on filing a report at MacEwan University.

Listen
Listen without judgment.
Mirror language using similar terms.
Ask questions to explore impact.
Avoid asking questions about what happened, especially “why” questions.
Believe
Show belief through words and actions.
Say, “Thank you for telling me.”
Do not ask for “proof.”
Assure them it was not their fault.
Validate Emotions

Let the person know how they feel is okay.
Be empathetic and express care and concern.
Acknowledge how the person has been impacted by the sexual violence.

Explore Options
Ask the person what they need.
Identify options, respecting their right to choose which service(s) to access.
Refer them to the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator.
Explore Campus and Community Resources.

Confidentiality

If you receive a disclosure from another MacEwan University community member, it is important to respect their privacy and confidentiality as much as possible. However, you and the person you are supporting should be aware of limits to confidentiality.

Confidentiality

Additional information on giving support

Be present

Allow the individual who is disclosing to talk about their experience in their own way and at their own pace. Sexual violence is often traumatic and it may take time for the story to unfold. Avoid interrupting or finishing their sentences for them. You don't need to fill silences. By being present and listening attentively, you open up a space for the individual you’re supporting to reclaim their voice.

Mirror their language

Many people will not define or label what happened to them as sexual violence for a number of reasons. A person might know that what happened was sexual violence, but not be comfortable using this or a similar label when disclosing to others because there is stigma or shame associated with it. Some people might be consciously or unconsciously avoiding the label “sexual violence” as a way to cope with the experience. And others might not be framing what happened as a form of sexual violence; rather, they may be thinking about it as a “bad sexual experience.”

It is also important to keep in mind that while there have been efforts to standardize language about sexual violence, there are still many ways to talk about it. The words people use are often shaped by their specific social and cultural context.

Each person has the right to define their own experience. Always mirror the person’s language when supporting them.

Ask but don’t pry

While it’s okay to ask questions, especially open-ended ones that encourage the person to talk about how they are doing, avoid prying for details or asking specific questions about what happened. A helpful guideline before asking a question is to ask yourself whether you actually need that information to support the person.

Avoid “why” questions

When you ask people who have experienced sexual violence why they behaved in a certain way, your words can come across as blaming, even if that's not your intent. Many people who experience sexual violence struggle with feelings of self-blame. Steering clear of “why” questions can help create a safe, non-judgmental space for a person to talk about what they are going through.

Some people who have experienced sexual violence choose not to talk about it because they are afraid that they won’t be believed, and some live with the “secret” of what happened for a long time. This can profoundly impact a person's long-term healing.

People rarely lie about experiencing sexual violence, but there is a great deal of cultural mythology around the notion of false reporting. The reality is that people are far more likely to live in secrecy and shame about an experience of sexual violence that did occur than to lie about sexual violence that never happened. Remember that as a supporter your role is not to judge the situation. All you need to do is support the person in front of you as you would anyone else going through a difficult time.

Recognize the courage it takes to tell someone about an experience of sexual violence. When survivors disclose, you can use affirming phrases to communicate that you believe them and that they did the right thing by telling you. Your belief in survivors is essential to their healing. Examples of affirming phrases include:

  • “I believe you.”
  • “I'm so sorry this happened.”
  • “Thank you for telling me. I believe you and I’m here to support you.”
  • “Thank you for trusting me enough to share this with me. How can I support you?”
Do not ask for proof

Typically, only investigators and individuals involved in disciplinary processes need to be concerned about evidence. In most other cases, the support we offer can be based on believing the survivor.

Many people who experience sexual violence feel responsible for what happened. This reaction is partly because our culture’s conventional understanding of sexual violence is rooted in myths and misconceptions that blame survivors and excuse perpetrators.

Sexual violence is never the responsibility of the survivor. It can be powerful to communicate this and challenge victim-blaming through gentle, supportive statements.

Try using supportive statements like these:

  • “It’s okay to feel some self-blame right now. Also please know I can see this wasn’t your fault.”
  • “Nothing you did caused this to happen.”
  • “No one asks to be sexually assaulted.”

Everyone responds to sexual violence differently and has a unique path to healing and recovery. Some individuals display intense feelings, others show very little feeling at all and others fall somewhere in between. All types of responses need to be honoured and supported. When you validate emotions and experiences, the survivor can feel seen, heard and accepted, which can be a powerful part of healing.

Try using phrases like these:

  • “Your feelings are valid and important.”
  • “Nothing you did caused this to happen.”
  • “You deserve to heal in whatever way feels right to you.”
  • “It's okay not to feel okay.”
Restore choice

Always keep in mind that when sexual violence occurs, a survivor’s choice is taken away by the person who harmed them. Consequently, restoring a sense of choice and control in a survivor's life can be very important in their healing. You can restore choice as a supporter by not making assumptions about what people should do; instead, focus on empowering them to make their own choices.

While you may not agree with all of the choices the survivor makes, it is important to trust that the survivor knows what is best on a personal level. Do not pressure a survivor to do what you think is best.

Explore options

When you support a person who has experienced sexual violence, you are not alone. Many community organizations and campus services have trained professionals who know how to support people at different stages of the healing process. With the survivor, explore options that are relevant to their main concerns or needs.

Survivors can always reach out to the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator as a first step in exploring their support options.

People who have experienced sexual violence might also consider:

  • Seeking medical attention
  • Seeking counselling
  • Reaching out to friends or family
  • Reporting to the police
  • Seeking academic or work modifications
  • Doing nothing

Find more information about campus and community resources.

Campus Resources

COMMUNITY RESOURCES

Additional resources

After a disclosure

Self-care

Learning to support someone else is a life-long process. Understand your own limitations. It is okay to make mistakes as you try to support someone impacted by sexual violence. You are only one person, and you are not solely responsible for another person’s healing.

Take time to nourish and replenish yourself. Hearing about another person’s experience of sexual violence can affect supporters. Your emotions are valid and you are deserving of self and community care. You might consider seeking support or counselling for yourself, especially if you are supporting someone on an ongoing basis.

Debrief with Sexual Violence Response Coordinator

MacEwan’s Sexual Violence Response Coordinator offers free and confidential support and information to any MacEwan University community member impacted by sexual violence, whether it happened on or off campus, and no matter how recently or how long ago it happened. You are encouraged to connect with the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator after you receive a disclosure. They can provide you with guidance and additional support.

Follow up with the survivor

Ask the survivor what, if any, follow-up support they would like from you. If it feels appropriate to your role on campus and the relationship you have with the survivor, develop a plan with them to check in at a later date to see how they are doing.

24/7 emergency response
For immediate emergency response contact Security Services at 497-5555. Uniformed security officers make regular patrols inside and outside University buildings and will respond to your call immediately.