Guidelines when responding to a survivor
As a possible first responder to a sexual assault, it is imperative that the following guidelines be followed and respected.
- Believe survivors and let them know you believe them; say, “I believe you.”
- Remind the survivor that the assault was in no way his or her fault.
- Listen attentively and affirm the survivor’s experience. Suggestions for affirming statements include: “You’ve been through a lot; It sounds like this feels really violating, overwhelming, isolating, etc., (use whatever adjective is appropriate).
- Do not tell the survivor what to do, or offer advice, “If I were you, I would…”
- Do not touch survivors unless you are absolutely certain they are comfortable with physical contact.
- Ask the survivor, “What can I do right now to support you?”
- Remember that everything you are doing is about giving power and control back to the survivor.
- Present options-when/where appropriate- without overwhelming them.
- Respect the survivor’s decision on how to proceed even if you do not agree with it; keep in mind that some survivors may want to go through the process alone, or they may decide to do nothing at all.
- Offer to go with them or suggest a support person, a close friend or trusted relative.
- Again, believe the survivor and remind him or her that the assault was not his or her fault.
It is normal for a survivor to feel shocked, overwhelmed, guilty, violated, dirty, shameful, etc. following a sexual assault. Survivors are in a very vulnerable situation and taking care of them is the first priority. Remember that they do not have to do anything they are not comfortable with.
If survivors disclose within 24 - 72 hours of the assault and have not received medical assistance, encourage them not to take a shower, brush their teeth, change their clothing, etc., until they have reviewed all options.
Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR)
Telephone: 416-736-5231 or ext 55231
Location: W128 Bennett Centre for Student Services