For University Faculty and Staff
University Professionals, Peer Helpers, or Resident Assistants
As a university professional at George Mason University, you influence your students academically and personally. The support you provide your students can make all the difference for your students’ academic success. Your willingness to respond to students in distress is influenced by your personal style and your beliefs about the limits of your responsibility for helping students deal with such personal and emotionally charged issues. You simply may not be comfortable discussing sexual assault, dating/partner violence and/or stalking with students. If you are not, please refer her/him immediately to Sexual Assault Services.
If you choose to be the student’s initial source of information and support, this brief guide provides assistance about how to help someone who tells you s/he is or has experienced a sexual assault, dating/partner violence or stalking. It focuses on what you might do and say and some of the options available for both you and the survivor.
When you are concerned about a student
Look for potential signs of a student in distress, which may include:
- An abrupt or sudden drop in attendance, or an unusual pattern of coming to class late or leaving early
- Decline in classroom participation
- Failure to turn in assignments
- Signs of bruising or other injuries
- Reasons for absences that include multiple hospital or doctor visits
Approach the student—let him or her know you are supportive and can be trusted. Ask your student if something is wrong—most victims appreciate your concern and may have been hoping someone notices their distress, but may be afraid to ask for help. Some examples of ways to start the conversation include:
- “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but is there something you’d like to talk to me about? I’ve noticed some changes in your performance/behavior/appearance lately”
- “I have noticed that you’ve missed the last __ classes, which is unusual for you. If there is something going on that you’d like to talk about, I’m here.”
- “I’ve noticed you seem to have a lot of bruises/injuries lately. Is everything ok, or is there something you want to talk about?”
When a student confides in you
Be supportive and non-judgmental. If someone discloses an experience with sexual, physical or emotional violence, it demonstrates a tremendous amount of trust in you. It is essential that you honor that trust and support this person in any way you feel comfortable. Try one of the following statements:
- “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
- “You are not alone—there is help.”
- “You are very courageous for sharing this with me. Thank you.”
- “How can I help?”
- “Do you feel safe?”
Refer your student to Sexual Assault Services and/or some other safe place. Sexual Assault Services can help students locate available resources—this is free and confidential.
What to expect
If a student is or has been the victim of a sexual assault, dating/partner violence or stalking, s/he may be experiencing trauma &fear that life will never be the same again. A few issues that often arise for such students are:
- Concerns about confidentiality: victims often worry that everyone will know if they seek help, and that it might become a part of their university record. Embarrassment, shame and fearthat make it difficult to discuss the situation also make it harder to ask for help.
- Fears about personal safety: victims may not feel safe – in their current housing situations, on campus or in the community.
- Fears about health: victims may also be worried about contracting STIs, HIV, or becoming pregnant.
- Loss of sense of control: victims often feel helplessness and depression after such violations of personal control. This is even truer for victims who do not feel they are allowed to make their own choices about what happens next.