How to Support a Survivor/Victim of Sexual Violence
Anyone at Western may receive a disclosure about sexual violence. The assistance that you will be able to provide to a survivor/victim of sexual violence will depend on the nature, timing, and ongoing effects of the incident(s).
If you receive a disclosure in the immediate time period following an assault (within approximately 72 hours of the incident):
- Help the individual find a safe environment.
- Advise the individual to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Even if there are no apparent injuries, there may be internal injuries. In London, immediate care and counselling support is available at the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre, located at St. Joseph’s Hospital (go to Urgent Care). Support is provided regardless of gender. The Centre will provide support to the survivor/victim in making choices and understanding options. Options include treatment of injuries, emotional support and crisis intervention, pregnancy prevention, the testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infection, safety planning and referrals.
- Advise the individual to preserve evidence. At the Regional Sexual Assault Domestic Violence Treatment Centre, the survivor/victim will be provided the option of collecting forensic (physical) evidence. The survivor/victim may choose to use this evidence later on or not at all. Survivors/victims have the most options available to them within the first 72 hours (3 days) following a sexual assault however certain evidence can be collected up to 12 days after the sexual assault.
- Believe the survivor. It is not your role to question whether the violence occurred.
- The survivor is not to blame. No one deserves to be a victim of sexual violence no matter what the circumstances. Even if the survivor feels responsible, say clearly, “It was not your fault”.
- Help the survivor explore options. You may use the resources listed on this website. You may accompany the survivor to any resources s/he wishes to go to, as a support person. Give the survivor the freedom to choose the services that he or she feels will be most beneficial and supportive. Support the survivor’s choices, even if you would make different choices.
- Avoid any re-victimization. A survivor is capable of taking care of him or herself. Allow the survivor to maintain control unless you are given permission or requested to assist. Resist passing judgment about how the survivor has handled the situation. Do not ask questions out of curiosity. Do not make excuses for the perpetrator’s actions.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or make a referral. Be aware of the limits of your own abilities and boundaries in supporting a survivor. Several resources are listed here (link to “get help” doc) and you are encouraged to share these resources with the survivor or access them for your own support. If you are not sure what to do next or where to call, you may call Equity & Human Rights Services for assistance. Equity and Human Rights Services can help direct you (either as survivor/victim or a support person) to resources for academic and workplace accommodations, changes to living arrangements in residence, and other emotional and health supports and resources.
- Believe the individual. Do not question his or her experience or make excuses for the other person’s behaviour.
- Encourage the individual to document incidents and keep evidence. Dates, times, locations, specifics about what happened, witnesses, copies of emails and texts, phone logs, etc.
- Refer the individual to Equity & Human Rights Services. You should also contact Equity & Human Rights Services to discuss the incident and attain advice, particularly if you are in an administrative or academic role.
Material adapted from Georgia Tech’s VOICE Initiative – www.voice.gatech.edu