How Guardians Can Help

As a parent guardian, learning that your student has been a victim/survivor of sexual violence may be particularly difficult to bear. The situation can be much harder to deal with when they are away at college and you can't physically be there for them. If your student turns to you for help after a sexual assault, there are many ways that you can show your support despite the distance.

It is important to know that it is natural to feel angry, hurt and to have feelings of self-blame or helplessness. As a parent or guardian, your first reaction may be to try to "fix" the situation or make everything okay, even while knowing this approach is not a viable option under these circumstances.

 Here are some strategies that you may find useful as you seek to help them heal from this trauma:

Listen and believe them.
Believe the survivor when they confide in you. Don’t pressure them to talk about details of the incident. It is better to go slowly and let them set the pace for your conversation. Listen actively and non-judgmentally. Help them process their feelings. Validate their anger, pain, fear, powerlessness, and sadness. These are natural responses that need to be felt, expressed, and heard. It is okay to tell them that this is a difficult topic for you to talk about. Let them know that you are open to talk about anything, even if it is uncomfortable or emotionally challenging.
Assure them that it is not their fault.
Self-blame is common among victims of sexual violence. It is important that, as their parent or guardian, you help them understand that no matter what happened—it was not their fault. Do not blame them, or yourself. Avoid asking “why” questions as much as possible because these often imply blame. Focus on their needs. If they didn’t tell you immediately about the assault, listen to their reasons. It is very common for survivors to wait before sharing with people they love. Reassure them that they have your love and support, no matter how much or how little they wish to disclose.
Allow your student to control next steps.
It is natural to want to try to fix the problem, but know that healing from this event will take time and your student must maintain the ability to choose how they wish to go about that healing process. You might feel tempted to push them to seek legal justice or other types of "solutions," but everyone pursues this process differently and at their own pace. You can provide guidance and information about their options for additional support and next steps, such as seeking support from campus and community resources, speaking with a legal advocate, or filing a report with the police. However, these choices lie with your student, and is important that they feel empowered to make their own decisions.
Understand if they do not tell you about the assault immediately.
Be understanding if they chose not to tell you about the assault immediately or if they did not come to you first. There are a number of reasons why they might avoid telling you about it, but rather than focusing on why they delayed coming to you, you should direct your energy into helping them heal. Try not to ask them to defend or justify their decision.
Be aware of your emotions.
Be honest with your student about your feelings. It is okay to grieve with them, but be aware of how you present your emotions with your child. You will probably feel many things including sadness, anger, guilt or even shame, but try not to let your feelings overshadow those of your student. It is hard for children to see their parents or guardians struggle, and they might feel guilty for upsetting you.
Support yourself.
Supporting your student through trauma can be a difficult and emotionally draining experience for those in the support role as well. Recognize this and don't hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it. You cannot effectively support your loved ones without being mindful of your own health and well-being.