April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month! Loyola will participate by holding Sexual Assault Awareness Week with several activities including signing petitions and postcards to encourage support of Violence Against Women Act funding, a free self-defense class, and the opportunity to sign It’s On Us pledges and share your picture to show support!
On the national level, the focus of SAAM this year is “Believe Survivors Change the Culture.” Prevention efforts are important; however, we also need to work on how we respond when sexual assault happens. The first disclosure is critical. Often survivors are unsure who to tell and choose someone they feel they can trust. If the reaction is negative, they feel ashamed and are less likely to seek help or tell others because they fear further judgment or blame. They are also more likely to experience depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse than survivors who feel supported.
What to do if someone discloses sexual assault to you:
- Remain calm. Sexual assault is a terrible thing and it is okay to react with concern for the survivor, however, it is also important to remain calm and keep the focus on them and their feelings.
- Don’t assume they’ve told others about the assault. Even if it happened a long time ago, you may be the first person they have chosen to tell about what happened to them.
- Don’t try to “fix it.” You can’t fix the situation or make things right or take away their pain. However, you can respond in a caring manner. Questions like “what do you need right now?” and “how can I help?” are a good place to start.
- Don’t ask too many detail questions. You are not an investigator. Allow the survivor the space to tell you what they want without the pressure to talk about details that are unnecessary. Additionally, questions about details can sometimes make survivors feel like they are being judged.
- Don’t lie about reporting. Title IX requires that non-confidential sources and CSAs report incidences of sexual violence that take place on and around campus. If you are a responsible reporter and a survivor tells you about a reportable assault, be honest with them and explain your obligations and the process. If you do not tell them or lie about reporting, they may feel betrayed.
- Don’t push them to report or press charges. There are many barriers to reporting sexual assault but beyond all of the reasons a survivor may not want to report, they should be empowered to make the decision that is best for themselves, not the decision you think is best.
- Refer them to resources. This includes on-campus resources such as the UCC, University Ministry, LUPD, The Advocates Initiative, and the Women’s Resource Center; as well as off-campus resources such as Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR) and the SAFE Program at University Medical Center for sexual assault exams. For more information about resources, visit: http://studentaffairs.loyno.edu/counseling/sexual-assault