As a faculty or staff member, you are particularly well situated to help students who have experienced sexual violence. You are likely someone who students look up to and respect, and your guidance and support during a difficult time could be invaluable.
Although there is no single “right” way to help a student who has experienced sexual violence, below are some guidlines for identifying students who are struggling and offering them support.
Signs that a Student Might Need Help
Sexual Violence can affect many areas of one’s life. Therefore, people who have experienced sexual violence may exhibit a range of behaviors. Generally speaking, though, students who are in emotional distress following an episode of Sexual Violence might:
- Demonstrate a sudden change in class attendance, marked by excessive absences or excessive tardiness
- Demonstrate a change in classroom participation patterns, marked by either decreased particpation or increased and disruptive participation
- Demonstrate diminishing interest in and/or ability to complete course assignments
- Seem down or lethargic
- Seem anxious, irritable, or hyperactive
- Demonstrate a change in attire or personal hygiene
- Undergo a noticeable weight loss or gain
- Articulate feelings of hopelessness
- Make implicit or overt reference to suicide–in face-to-face communication or in written assignments
What You Can Do
If you notice that a student is exhibiting these behaviors, you can offer support in several ways:
- By initiating communication with general questions about the student’s well-being–“How have you been lately?” “You seem anxious/down/distracted; is everything okay?”
- By identifying yourself as a general support person–“I’m available to talk if you need anything”
- By pointing your student toward general wellness resources, like Colby’s Health and Counseling Services (207-859-4460)
Even if a student is not ready to disclose sexual violence, and you are not sure that a student has experienced sexual violence, you can still establish yourself as a caring adult who is ready and willing to listen. While you would not want to put words in a student’s mouth–by insisting, for example, that they have experienced sexual violence–you can still make a positive difference just by identifying yourself as a concerned party who is paying attention.
If a student has disclosed sexual violence, you can offer support in several ways:
- By affirming the student and communicating that you believe them. We live in a culture in which victims of sexual violence are routinely doubted, undermined, and blamed for their own victimization. Simply believing goes a long way in this context.
- By making sure that the student is not facing ongoing danger. If the student feels that their danger is persistent, you can direct them to contact the the Dean on Call (207-859-5530) or Campus Security (207-859-5911).
- By directing the student to resources specific to sexual violence and allowing them to choose the resources that are most appropriate for their situation. It is important that you let the student take the lead in determining their course of action. You can share knowledge with a student, but you shouldn’t make decisions for them.
- By helping the student to understand the reporting process on campus and the potential benefits of reporting. Again, you can encourage a student to file a formal report, but you shouldn’t force them to do so. Reporting takes a lot of courage, and students should be encouraged to do so of their own volition and in their own time.
Some Things to Think About
- First and foremost, the college does not expect faculty or staff members to offer counseling to students. As already noted, Colby’s Health Services and Counseling Services offer many resources for those who have experienced sexual violence.
- All Colby employee, except those explicitly designated as confidential resources, are considered Responsible Employees. This means that they are required to inform a Title IX Coordinator (within 24 hours) of any instance of sexual or gender-based harassment/violence of which they gain knowledge. For more information about what it means to be a Responsible Employee, visit our Confidentiality on Campus page.