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For Friends, Family, and Responsible Employees

In times of distress, individuals are most likely to turn to friends, family, and trusted mentors for support. How friends, family, and trusted mentors respond impacts what if any resources someone will seek out moving forward.  When someone you care about comes to you and discloses that they have experienced sexual violence, sexual harassment, dating violence or any form of gender- or sex-based discrimination, it is important to listen first, let your mentee, advisee, friend or family member know that you care about them, and help them to connect to resources that can help. 

All University faculty, staff, and student employees are listed as responsible employees under Policy 1340 and are required to report all disclosures of sexual misconduct to Title IX whether they learn about it directly or indirectly.

A Note for Responsible Employees

The best way to assure that the person who is about to disclose information to you knows that you are a Responsible Employee is to make it evident as far in advance of any potential disclosures as possible. Some faculty put information on their syllabi about being Responsible Employees. Some offices make sure that information is apparent on their website and other materials available to students and colleagues.  However, even with all of that, if you want to be assured the individual knows you are a Responsible Employee before they make a disclosure, we recommend gently interrupting.

Gently Interrupting is not an art or science. It never goes as smoothly as planned and it will feel awkward. The bottom line is that in a caring and respectful community where we want to honor choice, gentle interruption is crucial. Often in a conversation, you can pick up on signals that someone is getting ready to disclose something important:  They may pause and start to say something and then stop before continuing on. They may look down or away and begin to talk more slowly. They may also begin to speak more rapidly. They may also provide an introduction to you such as, “I have been wanting to talk to you” or “I feel like I can trust you with this” or “I want you to know why I have been missing class or work” or “This is really hard to say and I don’t know how to say it.”  

Listen

You want to be all there and fully present for this conversation. This is definitely a time when putting away the phone or finding a quiet corner to focus is important.

Honor Confidentiality

Even though Responsible Employees can’t keep secrets when they learn of sexual misconduct involving JMU community members, they can honor confidentiality by doing the following when talking to someone who experienced harm:

  • Tell them exactly what you are going to disclose to Title IX. Remind them that Responsible Employees can't keep secrets, but you will only disclose discreetly and respectfully what you know to Title IX. 

  • Tell them how you are going to disclose to Title IX and ask if they have a preference for how they want that done. You can report to Title IX in person, over the phone, online, or via email. 

  • Remind them that once Title IX receives the report, Title IX will email them with information about resources and options for moving forward. Remind them that they are not obligated to respond back to Title IX

Express Gratitude

It is no small thing to have earned the trust of another person. Thank them for trusting you. 

Validate Their Feelings and Strength

Acknowledge their distress they must feel, and then be sure to acknowledge the strength that you see in them for sharing this information. 

Refrain from Judging

As a mentor, colleague, advisor, etc., you have been called on to play that role in someone’s life. Focus on continuing to be that supportive colleague, mentor, advisor, etc.  That role is crucial for healing.  Don’t confuse your role with that of judge and jury.  You do not need to nor is it particularly recommended that you make decisions about what happened and why it happened.

Offer Support

You don’t need to catalog all the ways you will offer support over the days and weeks to come. At that moment just say that you are here and that you are here to discuss resources and options. Suggest that you are even willing to go with them to check out different options, if they would like.

Connect with Resources

Encourage someone to seek assistance and support but do not dictate or catalogue which resource is best for them. Instead say something like, “I seem to recall some resources that are available to students. I don’t know what they are off hand, but if you want I can find that information and we can discuss it, if you would like.”

Safety First

In cases of imminent danger and threat, call the police and get help right away. If you have a feeling someone is in danger but aren’t sure, you can also consult with either campus or community police by calling the nonemergency line. 

Nonemergency Lines:
JMU Police:  (540) 568-6912
Harrisonburg Police:  (540) 434-4436

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

Let’s not forget how much it hurts when someone you care about is in pain. It takes great strength to be fully present and supportive. That means you need to take care of yourself, too.

Social scientists coined the term “vicarious trauma” to refer to the feelings of fatigue, confusion, fear, and anxiety that first responders, medical, mental health, and international aid workers experience after providing support and assistance to trauma survivors. Anyone close to a trauma survivor can also experience vicarious trauma and burnout, too. Healthy boundaries are important. Remember you are walking with, not for your friend or family member in crisis.

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