Learn How You Can Support Survivors of Sexual Misconduct
Victims who are believed by the first person they tell are more likely to seek other helping resources, report to police, and successfully go through a healing process.
The information on this page will help you better support survivors of sexual misconduct. If you are looking for specific resources and services offered by our office, visit our Victim Services page, the Sexual Offense Support Advocates page or download our Victim Advocacy handout.
Hearing a Survivor Disclose Their Story
- Make sure you know whether you are a mandatory reporter, and if you are, make sure to tell the survivor what your requirements are before they tell you the story so they can choose whether or not to share.
- Listen to the disclosure without blaming the victim or passing judgment
- Maintain confidentiality and do not share the victim’s story
- Respect the victim’s process of healing and justice (they may or may not pursue legal action)
- Restore control by allowing the victim to choose their next steps
Taking Action During the Disclosure
- Be clear that you believe the victim
- Be non-judgmental and supportive
- Provide information about possible next steps and resources such as counseling services, Title IX documents, etc.
- If you can, offer to accompany the victim should they seek medical services or decide to report the assault to local authorities
- Ask them if they would like to talk to an S.O.S. Victim Advocate or offer to call S.O.S. for them: 302-831-1001. Press #1 to connect with an SOS victim advocate.
Things to Avoid:
- Avoid asking for details or asking a lot of questions. Telling the story of what happened can be emotionally and physiologically re-traumatizing, so it is important to let the survivor be in the driver’s seat to the conversation. If they decide to seek helping resources or report to authorities, they will have to re-tell the story at least a few more times. So it is best to try to minimize how many times they have to tell it.
- Avoid pushing your own agenda about what you think they should do. Allow them to begin to regain control by making their own decisions about next steps to take.
- ALL UD employees (including paid student workers) are mandatory reporters, unless they are designated “confidential” (ex. CCSD and SWHP counselors). View the UD Sexual Misconduct policy for more information.
- The healing path for every survivor is different and will take time; be patient…as you support this person during their process
- Be calm during the disclosure and afterwards access any self-care resources you may need; vicarious trauma is a real experience
- Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault; no matter what they are wearing, where they were walking, who they were with, etc.
- You are not an investigator; you do not need to gather facts or information from the victim about the assault
- You are not a vigilante; do not seek out the accused or attempt to do them harm
Sexual Offense Support
S.O.S. Victim Advocates are available to call 24/7/365. Press 1 to reach a victim advocate. The staff member who answers will take a first name and phone number, and an S.O.S. Victim Advocate will call you back within 10 minutes. Click the button below to call: 302-831-1001
Why Is It So Hard for Survivors to Disclose?
Fear, psychological processing, and cultural norms impact a survivor’s ability and decision to disclose. Click the toggles below to learn more about these three factors:
- Fear of not being believed. Fear of retaliation. Fear of getting the person who assaulted them in trouble.
- This is especially true if the assailant was a friend or partner (statistically this is frequently the case; it’s actually less likely that the perpetrator was a stranger)
Processing the Experience
- It may take time, sometimes years, for a survivor to process the trauma, and even to identify what has happened to them, especially if their assailant was someone they knew and trusted.
- It can be a very emotionally painful process to face the knowledge that you have been victimized.
- Victims may experience: confusion, shame, self-blame, societal blame, and missing or fractured memory of the assault.
- Cultural norms and mores play a role in reporting behavior. For example, male survivors are much less likely to seek help because of the stereotype that men always want sex.
- Gender and sexual identity may prevent a victim from disclosing if they are worried someone will have a negative reaction to their identity. For example, LGBTQ survivors are more likely to experience sexual violence, but are less likely to seek help
- Overall, a person’s experience of the world based on race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, impacts their response as a survivor.
Emotional Responses Related Sexual Misconduct
Survivors may experience as range of emotional responses to trauma, there is no “normal” response or a “right way” to react. Click the toggles below to learn more about emotional responses related to sexual misconduct:
Survivors usually do one or the other (fight/flight or freeze/faint), not a combination of these responses.
- Fight or Flight: the body takes action
- Freeze: the brain and body are primed for action, but the body is literally paralyzed by fear – unable to move, speak, or cry out
- Faint: The body goes limp. Some people describe feeling “like a rag doll.” The heart rate and blood pressure drop rapidly, causing the victim to feel sleepy or pass out.
Current research (Rebecca Campbell, MSU) indicates that 12-50% of sexual assault survivors freeze (and do not fight or flee) – and it is estimated that the numbers are much higher.
Common Emotions After Trauma
- Shock, numbness, blankness
- Crying – hurt, betrayed, violated
- Composed, clear on what they want
- Disoriented, confused, can’t remember
- Frightened, jumpy
- Anger, rage
- Making jokes, laughing
Learn More About Supporting Survivors
If you are interested in learning more about how to help a friend or loved one who has been victimized, please visit the S.O.S. website to view their Support a Survivor page. It has additional information, as well as a downloadable handout.