For Students Helping Survivors
When someone you know or care about experiences a form of sexual harassment or sexual violence, you may experience a range of feelings, including anxiety about how best to help them. The following suggestions may help you support your friend, fellow student, or loved one.
* Please note that we use the term “survivor” instead of “victim” to refer to those who are impacted by violence and harassment. It is meant as a term of empowerment and is widely used in advocacy and activist circles to signify movement towards healing and recovery. We acknowledge that not all people may use this term or know about its history.
Ways to Respond
- Offer unconditional support and compassion. Tell the survivor that you believe her/him.
- Don’t tell the survivor what to do. Experiencing violence may make a person feel as if s/he has lost control, and it is important not to compound this by adding pressure to do things that s/he does not want to do or is not yet ready to do. There is no “right” way to cope with trauma.
- Offer resources and information without pressure or judgment about their decisions.
- Don’t press for details. Allow the survivor to share what s/he wants, when s/he wants. Avoid “Why?” questions. You might be attempting to better understand or get control over the situation, but “Why?” questions may be interpreted as blaming or skeptical. The answers won’t change what’s happened.
- Challenge statements of self-blame. The responsibility for the assault lies with the perpetrator(s), regardless of the person’s actions leading up to, during, or after the incident.
- If the survivor wants to seek medical attention or report the assault, offer to accompany them wherever they need to go (e.g., hospital, police station, campus security, etc.).
- Be patient.
- Ask how you can help.
Take Care of Yourself
Hearing about violence can be a very upsetting experience. Here are some things to keep in mind when supporting a survivor (in addition to the suggestions above):
- Realize that your feelings are valid. Practice self-compassion.
- Pay attention to your own needs – this could mean setting boundaries, taking extra time for activities that you enjoy, etc.
- If needed, seek outside resources to help you get through this difficult time: you could talk to a counselor, a close friend, or hotline – just make sure that you respect the survivor’s privacy.
Following an incidence of violence, people often experience a range of reactions that can impact their ability to perform well at school or work. Some of these include:
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- An inability to concentrate or focus
- Preoccupation with the event
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Fear of leaving a safe space
A student experiencing any of the above may want to reduce their academic load for the semester. When there has been a serious situation such as a sexual assault or domestic violence, the University will support a change in your academic schedule, even after deadlines have passed. This may include:
- Dropping classes
- Arranging for incompletes for courses
- Taking a leave of absence
- Withdrawing from school
Professors will often be very accommodating regarding deadlines and will work with students to complete a course when proper documentation is provided.
To discuss options regarding academic support, students may speak with the Dean of Students, Title IX Coordinator, their academic advisor, or the Dean of their academic college.
For Student Leaders, Resident Assistants, Staff, and Faculty Helping Survivors
- Thank the survivor for trusting you enough to share, and ask them if they are getting support. Refer the student, faculty, or staff member to appropriate resources, if desired and notify the Title IX Coordinator.
- Please refrain from asking the survivor about the details of the incident.
- Offer options. Be clear as to what you can and cannot do. For example, as an academic advisor, you could help the student adjust their course load, withdraw from school, change a grading option, and offer referrals. It is not appropriate to become an informal counselor.
- Faculty can be supportive by offering academic flexibility as the student is likely to have difficulty focusing for a period of time. Check to see if the student feels safe in your class/lab/section/etc… and if not, please contact the Dean of Students Office for assistance.
- Protect the survivor’s privacy. As much as it’s normal to want to talk with someone when we hear upsetting situations, this should be done without names and details. With the exception of staff at Counseling Services and Student Health Services, all university staff and faculty have a reporting responsibility under the Clery Act, so please let the person know this as early in the conversation as possible.
- Be mindful of your own needs and self-care. People in supporting roles may benefit from consultation or counseling with a professional.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please know that there are trained professionals at the University of Bridgeport who are available to offer compassionate, confidential support, and counseling, if you wish. Every concern or question you have is valid and important. University staff can also provide assistance connecting survivors with an advocate to be present during a forensic exam and through any reporting process that you may choose.
University of Bridgeport Counseling Services
Counseling Services provides short-term personal counseling free of charge to all students as well as confidentiality (except in specific situations as required by law). Counseling sessions are typically 45-50 minutes in duration. There is a 12-session limit per student for the academic year. Most students have their needs met in 1-4 sessions.
The Center for Family Justice, Inc.
The Center for Family Justice uses a coordinated approach to offer services designed to break the cycle of violence, in a safe place, under one roof. Counselors, client advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, and civil/legal providers work together to streamline how they help people heal while reducing costs.
753 Fairfield Avenue
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604