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How to Respond to Someone Who May Have Experienced Sexual Misconduct

Remember, at the University of Houston System, ours is a community that cares. If you see someone in need, you should help them. With that said, because you are a member of this community, you may find yourself in the position of responding to a direct disclosure of sexual misconduct from another member. If that happens, here is how you can help them:

Step 1: Care for that Person

Prior to a Disclosure

If you believe the person (reporter) is about to tell you about an incident of sexual misconduct, explain your reporting duties before they make the disclosure. If the reporter wants to talk to someone WITHOUT any information being reported, refer them to the confidential resources listed in the resources section of this website. Also, here is a sample script you could use:

“I need to tell you that if I become aware that sexual misconduct has occurred, I am required to inform University staff who are specially trained to respond, so that steps can be taken to ensure your safety and the safety of our community. Your privacy will be respected, but if you prefer to talk to someone who does not have an obligation to report, there are other options. On campus, you can talk to someone in our counseling center.”

During the disclosure: Listen with empathy

Listening is the single most important thing that you can do. No one deserves to be a victim of violence, regardless of the circumstances. Let the victim know they are not to blame for the assault. Avoid asking questions that imply fault, such as “How much were you drinking?” or “Why didn’t you call the police?” Instead, say something simple and kind, like:

“I’m sorry that this happened to you.” or “Thank you for telling me.”

During the disclosure: Provide Non-Judgmental Support and Respect Their Decisions

One of the most important ways to provide support is to listen without judging or blaming. Remember that no matter the circumstances, no one deserves to be subjected to sexual misconduct. Allow the victim to talk about their experience. The person may not know what to call what happened; do not define the experience for them. Follow their lead; do not take control of the situation or try and do something to “fix” it. Having experienced sexual misconduct can cause the person to feel a loss of control; let the victim make their own decisions, and support their decisions. Also understand that everyone responds uniquely to sexual misconduct. Some common reactions may include shock, fear, embarrassment, guilt, anger, depression, and/or feeling overwhelmed. This is okay. Remember, you are not an investigator; you are someone the victim trusts. Avoid telling the victim what they “should” or “must” do. One of the most important things you can do is help the victim take back the power that they have lost. Try phrases like:

“What kind of help do you need?” or “When you are ready, there is help available.”

Step 2: Get Help

Ensure safety

If there is immediate danger, contact your campus police or local law enforcement agency. Remember, it is always the victim’s choice whether or not to report to the police.

Connect the Victim with Resources

If the reporter is a victim of sexual misconduct, you should provide the victim with additional information for contacting on-and-off campus resources. You could start by making them aware of this website if they are not aware of it already.

Step 3: Contact Your Title IX Coordinator

Contacting the Title IX Coordinator

At the earliest possible time (ideally within 24 hours) after you receive information that someone has experienced sexual misconduct, you must report it to your University’s Title IX Coordinator. You will need to report all relevant details about the incident(s) disclosed by the reporter. This includes the names of the reporter, the accused, and any witnesses, as well as any other relevant facts, including the date, time, and specific location of the incident. Once you have reported to your University’s Title IX Coordinator, you do not need to take further action. Understand, however, that you may be contacted for follow-up information as the University gathers information.