Tips for Responding to a Sexual Harassment/Sexual Misconduct Disclosure
Conversations around sexual harassment and misconduct are sensitive in nature and require care and compassion. If a student or colleague approaches you to talk about something difficult that happened, it shows that they are comfortable with you and trust you. It is important you let them know you are ready to listen and assist, but that you also have reporting obligations. This is a tricky balance — you want to communicate that you are not a confidential resource while still inviting the person to share and feel safe!
So how do I communicate this message?
Example: “I’m here to help and I’m ready to listen. I know that it takes courage for you to share this with me and before you go forward, I need you to know there are certain things I have to share. If I need to share information, I will do that in a discrete, compassionate way with your best interest at heart. I can help you find a confidential person to talk with if you would prefer. I hope you will talk to someone – whether it’s me or a confidential resource.”
The way you deliver this message is just as important as the words you say. Be sincere. Have an earnest face and posture that conveys openness.
When someone shares information with you, your verbal and nonverbal response is very important. Helpful communication tips include:
- Listening without interrupting.
- Remaining calm and concerned. Maintain eye contact.
- Not worrying about having to say just the right thing — just being there can help!
- Respecting the language the person uses to explain what happened.
- Remembering that this is a time to allow them to vent whatever emotions, thoughts or beliefs they have connected to their experience.
- Allowing for rears and expression of feelings.
- Empowering silence as silence means that the person in thinking and/or processing. This may also be an opportunity for you to think about how you can help and be there for them.
- Believing and support the person. (Reflect what you are hearing: “That must have been tough/frightening/scary for you.”)
- Helping them identify one to two trusted support people. (“Even if you don’t know what you want to do right now, it can be helpful to talk to someone about your options.”)
- Asking if they want to get medical attention — no matter how long ago the assault occurred.
- Having an appropriate behavioral response (Hugging or touching may be inappropriate. Please ask beforehand, e.g., “May I give you a hug?”). If this feels awkward to do, then it will be awkward.
- Asking yourself, “Am I doing everything in my power to create an intentionally safe environment for this person with my verbal and non-verbal language?”
The following are examples of WHAT NOT TO SAY/DO:
- Asking “why” questions or questions that may imply blame and put the person on the defensive (“What were you doing there?).
- Asking questions to satisfy your own curiosity never assist the process.
- Blaming or judging the person’s actions (“You shouldn’t have had so much to drink”).
- Dismissing the person’s feelings or minimizing their experience (“It could have been worse”).
- Trying to “fix” the problem (telling the person what to do, such as “you need to talk to a counselor”).
- Saying “It will be OK”. This is only allowed if you are indeed a certified psychic and can predict the future 100% of the time. You don’t know it will be “OK”, but you can be there with them in the present moment where it is safe.
If someone discloses information that you need to report, let them know you have to share the information with the Title IX Coordinator. You can assure them that every effort will be made to respect their privacy and that the information may not go any further than the Title IX Coordinator — depending on the circumstances. Let them know what will happen next.
So, how do I say this?
Example: “I need to share this information with Skip Bishop, Title IX Gender Equality Officer. Mr. Bishop is San José State University’s Title IX Coordinator. Mr. Bishop will do everything he can to maintain your privacy. He will contact you to discuss options, including what it would look like if you choose to file a complaint with the University, file a criminal complaint, or not file a complaint. Mr. Bishop will also give you information on support services and ways the University can help.”
After the conversation, you need to share the following information with the Title IX Office:
- Names of all parties involved (complainant, respondent, and witnesses)
- Date, time, and location of alleged incident
- Any details of the incident shared by the complainant
- Whether the complainant requested confidentiality
- Whether the complainant requested no action be taken
- Any other relevant facts
Please immediately share this information with the Title IX Office as follows: