Sexual misconduct can happen to anyone. As parents, guardians and family members, it can be very difficult and overwhelming to hear your student has been sexually assaulted. When it happens, it can be hard to know how to act or what to say. Every person responds differently to sexual assault. Common emotions can include feelings of fear, distress, humiliation, anger, confusion, numbness, and guilt. The single most important thing you can do is help your student feel safe and supported. It is important your student be allowed to express and process through their feelings without the fear of having these feelings invalidated or dismissed.
Believe what your student tells you (even if they sometimes doubt themselves, their memories are vague, or if what they tell you sounds extreme). Don't become frustrated if the story changes. The details will likely come out in bits and pieces. Allow them to disclose information at their own pace. Do not place blame on your student for the sexual assault, and don't pressure them to talk. By letting them set the pace, you show that you are focused on your student's needs. Remember every person's healing process is unique.
Listen and help your student process through all of the confusing and painful feelings. Validate her/his anger, pain, and fear. These are natural responses need to be felt, expressed, and heard. Validate the damage (all sexual abuse and rape is harmful, even if there are no physical scars or visible indicators of struggle).
Talk with your student about taking the necessary steps they may need to take to protect and ensure their safety.
Provide your student with resources where they can discuss options so that they can make an informed decision about what to do next.
Discuss options and ask them what they want to do next. This may or may not include contacting an advocate and/or the police. Reporting a sexual assault crime is often a very difficult, long, and painful process for survivors. It is not an appropriate option for everyone, but a trained advocate can help your student navigate the options.
Help your student get the professional care and support they may need. Counseling can be very helpful in assisting your student and you through the healing process of coping with the sexual assault. Seek immediate professional help if your student displays any suicidal behaviors or if you are worried about their emotional or physical well-being.
Be Open. Let them know you are open to talk about anything, even if it is uncomfortable. It is okay to tell your student this is a difficult topic for you to talk about.
Encourage your student to seek medical attention, but understand that your student has the right to decide what medical attention is necessary. Your student may opt to seek care and do an evidence collection kit at the local hospital, seek preventative STD treatment or choose to do nothing at this time. Whatever the choice, it's important that your student make their own choices as a way to regain control of their body.
Control your own emotions. If you show great emotion, your student may find it harder to talk with you and may even feel guilty for upsetting you. Share your feelings, but make sure your feelings don't overwhelm your student's feelings. As a loved one of a survivor, you may have reactions of anger, sadness, and shame. Find a supportive person or counselor with whom you can share your strong feelings with so that your conversations with your student can focus on their needs.
Separate the anger you may feel at your student for having broken any rules or using poor judgment from the anger you feel about the situation. The offender is the only one responsible for the assault. No matter how badly you need to vocalize your anger, don't vent it on your student or other family members.
Recognize your student's need for privacy. Their boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after a sexual assault.
Take care of yourself. Educate yourself about sexual misconduct and the healing process. As you provide support for your student, it's also important to pay attention to how the information that you learn impacts you. Realize when you've reached your own limitations, and encourage your student to talk to a professional. Many people will feel frustrated because they were unable to protect their student. It's ok to feel angry, depressed, helpless and/or overwhelmed when someone we love is hurt. If you find yourself feeling this way, consider getting help. Your local crisis center can be a free and confidential place to talk about your feelings and get referrals to local mental health counselors that have experience working on these issues.