Although we certainly hope that none of your daughters and sons will experience a sexual assault, it is important to know how to respond in the unfortunate case that something like this occurs while your student is away at college. Since April 25h was Take Back the Night and April is Sexual Assault Prevention month, it is a timely moment to provide you with tips in case your student, friend or other family member confides in you that they have been raped or sexually assaulted:
They need your trust and support. Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It is not the person’s fault they have been raped. Many sexual assault survivors are victimized a second time when they confide in a trusted friend or family member who questions them, blames them for putting themselves at risk, ignores or brushes them off or doesn’t believe them. Avoid asking “why” questions that imply the survivor is at fault.
You may feel like giving advice or getting angry at the perpetrator. Hold off. Listen to your student. They may be very unclear about what they are feeling and may present feelings to you in a confused way. The survivor may cry or laugh, feel unsafe, be afraid, angry, sad or numb. Try to listen and understand the trauma they have gone through. Talking may provoke strong feelings in you, especially as a parent. Try to keep your feelings in check right now, especially your anger. Your student needs you to be sensitive to their feelings and to help the student decide what he or she wants to do. Even though the survivor’s pain about the sexual assault may feel overwhelming to you, remember, by listening non-judgmentally, you are helping the survivor to begin healing.
that your reactions and feelings are important too. When someone we care about is traumatized we are traumatized too. You may need to talk to someone about what you are going through and how to handle your feelings. Don’t hesitate to do so.
If your student contacts you right after being raped or assaulted, encourage them to get medical help immediately. There are many reasons to get a medical evaluation; in addition, not having a medical exam right away, before cleaning up, may limit options if the survivor decides to press charges. The University Health Center and Sacred Heart Hospital have trained sexual assault nurse examiners who can collect evidence.
Above all, respect the survivor’s efforts to be in control. Even though medical attention immediately is a good idea, if the survivor does not want this, do not insist. The person who has been sexual assaulted has been deprived of their control. Friends and family can counter this by helping the survivor make their own decisions.
Finally, I invite you to check out the UO’s updated Sexual Harassment/Sexual Assault Protocols including Campus Resources.
Summarized by H. Brooks Morse, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist