Helping a Complainant of Sexual Assault
It can be a very challenging experience when someone discloses a sexual assault; however, knowing how to be supportive can be crucial in a complainant’s healing process. There are two things you need to think about: how you can support the complainant, and how you can take care of yourself.
How You Can Support the Complainant
Believe the complainant: Know that revealing this experience takes a great deal of strength and courage. Remember that NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ASSAULTED. Remind the complainant that the assault was not their fault. Let the complainant know that you believe them.
Be respectful of privacy and confidentiality: Don’t tell anyone about the assault without the complainant’s permission. The complainant has chosen to tell you and it may be hurtful or dangerous to inform others.
Let the complainant make their own decisions: You can provide information and options for the complainant, but always let the complainant make their own decisions. Many complainants feel a deep sense of disempowerment as a result of being violated. Therefore it is important to help the complainant feel empowered. Instead of taking charge, ask how you can help. Offer to accompany the complainant to seek medical attention or to the police if they so choose. Support the decisions the complainant makes, even if you might not agree with them.
Be aware of your desire to provide reassurance: Saying things like “everything is going to be all right” or “it could have been worse,” may seem supportive, however, the complainant may interpret these reassurances to mean that you don’t understand their feelings, or that you are trivializing the magnitude of what they have experienced. Instead you might say, “I’m sorry this happened,” or “How can I be helpful?”
Remind the complainant that you care: The complainant may worry that their friends and loved ones won’t think of them in the same way. Let the complainant know you don’t see them differently, and that you are here to support them.
Give the complainant space if they need it: Be sensitive to the fact that the complainant might want to spend some time alone. Don’t touch or hug the complainant unless you are sure they are comfortable with physical contact.
Be a good listener: Recovering from a sexual assault can take a long time. The complainant may need your support now and in the future. Let the complainant choose when they wants to talk and how much they wants to share. Sometimes the complainant may not want to talk at all. When the complainant does choose to talk to you, these are things to keep in mind:
- DO concentrate on understanding the complainant’s feelings.
- DO allow silences.
- DO let the complainant know you are glad they disclosed to you.
- DON’T interrogate or ask for specific details about the sexual assault.
- DON’T ask “why” questions such as “why did you go there?” or “why didn’t you scream?”
- DON’T tell them what you would have done or what they should have done.
Good Samaritan Provision
The health and safety of Southern Arkansas University’s students is of the highest priority. At times, students may need immediate medical or other professional assistance. However, students may be reluctant to get help because of concerns that their own behavior may be a violation of the student conduct code. To minimize any hesitation students or student organizations may have in obtaining help due to these concerns, the University has enacted the following ―good Samaritan provision. Although policy violations cannot be overlooked, the University will consider the positive impact of reporting an incident when determining the appropriate response for policy violations. In such cases, any possible negative consequences for the reporter of the problem should be evaluated against the possible negative consequences for the student who needed assistance. At a minimum, students or student organizations should make an anonymous report that would put the student in need in touch with professional helpers. Examples where this policy would apply include:
- A student is reluctant to call an ambulance when a friend becomes unconscious following excessive consumption of alcohol because the reporting student is under the age of 21 and was also consuming alcohol.
- A student is reluctant to report that he/she has been sexually assaulted because he/she had been consuming alcohol and is under the age of 21. It is in the best interests of this community that as many victims as possible choose to report to University officials. To encourage reporting incidents of sexual misconduct, SAU pursues a procedure of offering victims of sexual misconduct limited immunity from being charged for policy violations related to the sexual misconduct incident. Thus, although the University may not impose disciplinary charges, the University may mandate educational options (such as alcohol and other drug assessments and attendance to alcohol education programs) in such cases.