How to Respond to Disclosures of Sexual Violence

If someone discloses their experience of sexual violence to you, your reaction could significantly impact what they choose to do next. It is common to feel unsure about what to say when receiving a disclosure, but you have an opportunity to provide non-judgmental support and information. Here are some general tips on what to say and do when receiving a disclosure of sexual violence:

Listen.

  • It is important to keep in mind that it takes tremendous courage to speak out. Give them space to talk, and try not to interrupt.
  • Show that you are actively listening through your body language (i.e. nodding, maintaining eye contact etc.) and through your words (i.e. “It took a lot of courage for you to tell me this” or “I’m sorry this happened to you.”) .
  • Be empathetic of the situation and express your care and concern for them.

Believe.

  • No one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted. It does not matter what the survivor did or did not do before, during or after the assault. Tell them that what happened is not their fault.
  • Avoid asking “why” questions. You may want to gather information, however this may imply the assault was their fault, or that you don’t believe them.
  • Simply saying “I believe you” can be a very powerful statement to a survivor.

Explore Options.

  • Let them know that supports are available to them. If the person is in imminent danger you can call the Department of University Safety (4444 from any campus phone or (613) 520-4444 from any non-campus phone). In a non-emergency situation, they can come to the Department of Equity Services between 8:30-4:30 to receive peer support or speak with an Equity Advisor. Use this website to look at what other resources are available on and off campus by [clicking here].
  • Give them back as much control as possible to make decisions regarding what to do next. Survivors are the experts of their own lives.
  • Remember, the person may or may not access the supports that you have discussed and that is their choice. Everyone has the right to decide what to do next and those decisions should be respected.

Here are some general do’s and don’ts for when someone disclosures their experience to you.

Do’s

  • Make sure the person is physically and emotionally okay
  • Believe what the person tells you
  • Listen and allow the individual to express feelings and reactions
  • Be supportive and non-judgmental about the individual’s reactions and decisions
  • Encourage a medical check-up as soon as possible
  • Provide information that support is available at Carleton University and in the Ottawa Community (below). Offer to help with the initial contact.Reassure the person reporting these assaults that they are not to blame – nothing justifies a sexual assault

Don’t

  • “Take over” by starting to make decisions on the person’s behalf
  • Minimize the assault with comments like, Well, at least you were not…”
  • Don’t ask “why” questions, “Why did you go there?”, “Why did you let …”