I Witnessed or Was Told About Sexual Violence

How to Support Someone who Discloses Sexual Violence

What to Expect When Someone Discloses  

Each Survivor has their own personal experience, emotions, and ways of coping. This can be shaped by gender, race, ability, age, class, and other social factors. 

When a person discloses to you, they may: 

  • Be sad and crying. 
  • Appear flat or numb. 
  • Be calm. 
  • Demonstrate an inability to remember details or concentrate. 
  • Be anxious or have a panic attack. 
  • Be unsure, questioning. 
  • Exhibit anger. 
  • Any combination of emotions. 

These and other reactions are normal reactions to traumatic events and experiences. There is no right or wrong way to act when telling one’s experience of sexual violence. 

What to Do When Someone Discloses 

  1. Make sure the person is safe
    • Contact the police (911) or Campus Security (902 420 5000) if the person (or others) is in immediate danger or needs medical attention. 
    • Assist the person in getting to a space where they feel safe. 
    • Provide the person with emergency mental health supports, such as Mobile Mental Health (1 888 429 8167). 
  2. Offer your support
    • Listen without judgement and tell the person you believe them.  
    • Communicate that sexual violence is never the fault or responsibility of the Survivor. 
    • Let the individual know they have options. Respect their right to decide whether to report to the police and to choose the service/s they feel are most appropriate for them.
    • Recognize that disclosing can be traumatic and an individual’s ability to recall all the events may be limited. The details are not necessary to provide a supportive response. 
    • Respect the individual’s choices as to what and how much they disclose about their experience. 
    • Respect confidentiality and anonymity. 
  3. Take action if required
    • If the incident involved explicit images or video of an individual under the age of 18, you are required to contact the police at 902 490 5020. 
    • If the Survivor/situation applies to any of the scenarios below, you are required to contact the Department of Community Services at 1 866 922 2434: 
      • The Survivor is under the age of 16. 
      • The Survivor is aged 16-19 and the person who harmed them is their parent or guardian.
  4. Refer the person to the Sexual Violence Advisor and other resources that may help
    • Help the person explore their options and let them choose which service/s or resources to access. The Sexual Violence Advisor can explain what supports are available at Saint Mary's and locally within the community. 
    • See the Resources page for information on supports and services. 
  5. Practice self-care
    • Supporting a Survivor is not always easy.  Make sure you find support for yourself as well. Ensure that you are taking care of yourself by drinking enough water, eating regular meals, resting and taking some time for the activities that bring you joy. The Sexual Violence Advisor is available to provide support for those who receive Disclosures. 

SMU Community Members 

If someone discloses an experience of sexual violence to a member of the SMU Community, listen compassionately and refer the person to the Sexual Violence Advisor, who can offer support, help exploring options and help accessing services and supports on Campus and in the Community.   

The person receiving the Disclosure should also complete the anonymous, online Sexual Violence Disclosure Form and submit it to the Sexual Violence Advisor. The form does not collect any identifying information about the Survivor. It is used to document sexual violence cases experienced by students, staff and faculty to inform prevalence and prevention education, training and support services. Completion of the form does not mean that the Survivor has to report or take action.  

Sexual Violence Disclosure Form

Resources that Can Help You 

There are resources which can help you learn how to intervene when you witness sexual or gender-based violence, or when you need to support a Survivor.  

View the Resources Page to learn more 

Contact us

Dee Dooley, Sexual Violence Advisor
409 Student Centre

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