Talking to Your Student
Consider the following information when talking to your student about an incident of sexual misconduct:
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What To Say
- Believe your student when she/he confides in you (even if they sometimes doubt themselves, their memories are vague, or if what they tell you sounds extreme). Don’t become frustrated if the story changes. The details will likely come out in bits and pieces.
- • Allow her/him to disclose at her/his own pace. Do not place blame on your student and do not pressure her/him to talk. By letting your student set the pace, you show that you are focused on your student’s needs. Remember that every person’s healing process is unique.
- Listen and help your student process through all of the confusing and painful feelings. Validate her/his anger, pain, and fear. These are natural responses that need to be felt, expressed, and heard. Validate the damage (all sexual violence and abuse is harmful, even if there are no physical scars or visible indicators of struggle).
- Control your own emotions. Don’t panic. If you show great emotion, your student may find it harder to talk with you and may even feel guilty for upsetting you. Share your feelings, but make sure your feelings don’t overwhelm your student’s feelings. As a loved one of a survivor, you may have reactions of anger, sadness, and shame. Find a supportive person or counselor with whom you can share your strong feelings with so that your conversations with your student can focus on their needs.
- Try to separate the anger you may feel at your student for having broken any rules or using poor judgment from the anger that you feel at the respondent. The respondent is the only one responsible for the sexual misconduct. No matter how badly you need to vocalize your anger, don’t vent it on your student or other family members.
- Recognize your student’s need for privacy. Her/his boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after an incident of sexual misconduct.
- • Give control to the survivor. This means allowing your student to speak for her/himself. Sexual violence can take away an individual’s power and make the survivor feel invaded, changed, and out of control. It is crucial for survivors to be able to make their own decisions in order to regain power over their own lives.
Reassure your student that she/he has your love and support. Listen to the reasons if your student didn’t tell you immediately. She/he may have been scared of your reaction, felt shame or embarrassment, or tried to protect you. It is very common for survivors to wait before sharing with people they love. Try to understand without judgment.
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What Not To Say
- It is okay to tell your student that this is a difficult topic for you to talk about. Let her/him know that you are open to talk about anything, even if it is uncomfortable.
- When talking to your student, avoid taking on the role of detective, judge or jury. Your primary role is to provide support, not to “solve” the case. Asking for too many details can make the survivor think that you don’t believe her/him or may cause her/him to simply shut down. Realize that “legal justice” and “emotional healing” are two different things; for many survivors, legal justice is not the primary goal.
- Discuss the distinction with your student the distinction between “if only” and “guilt.” It is common for survivors to blame themselves for what happened. In some ways, this helps survivor feel like she/he could have prevented the assault or abuse. Reassure her/him that it was not her/his fault and that the only person responsible is the respondent.
- Encourage your student to see her/himself as a strong, courageous survivor who is reclaiming her/his life.
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Getting Help For Your Student
- Criticize your student for being where they were or not resisting more forcefully. The only person responsible for the sexual assault is the respondent. Everyone has the basic human right to be free from threat, harassment, or attack. Whatever your student did to survive the situation was the right thing to do.
- Downplay what happened by saying it wasn’t that bad or that she/he should forget about it. Let her/him say exactly how they feel.
- Sympathize with the respondent. Your student needs your absolute support.
- Blame your student, spouse/partner, or yourself. Avoid asking “why” questions as much as possible because these often imply blame.
When responding to your student after an incident of sexual misconduct, here are some suggestions on how to get help and support for your student:
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Getting Support For Yourself
- Talk with your student about taking the necessary steps she/he may need to take to protect and ensure her/his safety. CAN advocates are available to help with ideas for safety planning.
- Encourage your student to seek medical attention, but understand that your student has the right to decide what medical attention is necessary. Your student may opt to seek care and do an evidence collection kit at the local hospital, seek preventative treatment, or choose to do nothing at this time. Whatever the choice, it’s important that your student make her/his own choices as a way to regain control of her/his body.
- Discuss options and ask her/him what she/he wants to do next. This may or may not include contacting an advocate at the Campus Advocacy Network (CAN), the Title IX Coordinator, the Office of the Dean of Students and/or the UIC Police. Reporting a sexual assault crime is often a very difficult, long, and painful process for survivors. It is not an appropriate option for everyone, but a trained advocate can help navigate the options.
- Help your student get the professional care and support she/he may need. Counseling can be very helpful in assisting your student and you through the healing process of coping with the sexual misconduct.
- Refer to the UIC Student Sexual Misconduct website for detailed information to share with your student on reporting sexual misconduct and campus and community resources.
As you provide support for your student, it’s also important to pay attention to how the information that you learn impacts you. Some of you may be survivors yourselves or have experienced the assault of someone else close to you that may trigger unresolved feelings from the past. Educate yourself about sexual misconduct and the healing process. Realize when you’ve reached your own limitations
Many people will feel frustrated that they were unable to protect their student. It’s normal to feel angry, depressed, helpless and/or overwhelmed when someone we love is assaulted. If you find yourself feeling this way, consider getting help. You may want to talk to a local mental health counselor or take the time to care for yourself (e.g. getting exercise, talking with friends, trying relaxation techniques)
Taking care of one’s self at a time like this may feel selfish or unnecessary, but it’s important to remember that your student needs you. If s/he sees you having difficulty, your student may feel that she/he needs to take care of you and therefore focus less on her/his own healing.
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