Tips for Responding to a 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. Here are a few general tips on explaining your role as a responsible employee:
- Be Transparent:
- "It sounds like you're about to tell me something very personal . . . before you go any further, I just want to let you know that I am required to share any disclosures of suspected misconduct to Title IX."
- Be Clear:
- What is in their control? How much they tell you & if they decide to pursue an investigation or not.
- What isn't? The disclosure being shared with Title IX. It is important you let them know you are ready to listen and assist, but that you also have reporting obligations.
- Be Informed:
- Tell them what happens next: After your outreach to Title IX, an email will be sent from the Title IX office outlining all resources, options and rights. They can do whatever they wish with that email.
- Connect them to confidential advocacy resources at Survivor Advocacy Services or the YWCA and ongoing support from Counseling Services or other mental health professionals.
So how do I communicate this message?
Example: “I appreciate your willingness to share this information with me. I’m here to help and I’m ready to listen. I know that it takes courage for you to share this with me, but before you continue, I want to be transparent with you about my obligations as a responsible employee. I need you to know there are certain things I have to share with the Title IX and Gender Equity Office. If I need to share information, I will do that in a discrete and compassionate way with your best interest at heart. Knowing this, if you are more comfortable speaking with someone confidentially, I can connect you with a confidential resource. [Offer to walk them to our Campus Survivor Advocate.] I hope you will talk to someone – whether it’s me or a confidential resource.”
Please remember the way you deliver this message is just as important as the words you say. Be sincere. Be earnest, sincere, and mindful of your body language and facial expressions; avoid distractions.
When someone shares information with you, your verbal and nonverbal response is very important. Helpful communication tips include:
- Listen without interrupting.
- Remain calm and concerned.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Do not worry about having to say just the right thing; your presence, time, and empathy is enough.
- Respect the language the person uses to explain what happened (e.g., if they use “victim,” use victim; if they use “survivor,” use survivor).
- Remember that this is a time to allow them to express or vent whatever emotions, thoughts, or beliefs they have connected to their experience.
- Embrace silence, as silence means that the person is thinking and/or processing. This may also be an opportunity for you to think about how you can help and be there for them.
- Validate and support the person. (Reflect back what you are hearing: “That must have been tough/frightening/scary for you.”)
- Help them identify one to two trusted support people. (“Is there someone you want with you at this time?”)
We recommend avoiding the following:
- Asking “why” questions, or judging the person’s actions (e.g., “Why did you drink that much?,” or “Why did you stay the night?”).
- Asking questions to satisfy your own curiosity.
- Dismissing the person’s feelings or minimizing their experience (e.g., “It could have been worse”).
- Telling the person what they need to do (e.g., “You need to talk to a counselor”).
Let them know what will happen next, after you share the disclosure with the Title IX and Gender Equity Office.
So, how do I say this?
Example: “I need to share this information with the Title IX and Gender Equity Office. The Title IX and Gender Equity Office will do everything they can to maintain your privacy. You can expect to receive a letter from that office with information about resources, your resolution options, and ways the Title IX Office can support you. They will also offer a meeting. You are not obligated to respond to their outreach, and meeting with them will not obligate you to participate in any investigation or other disciplinary process.”
After the conversation, you need to share all known details from the disclosure with the Title IX and Gender Equity Office such as:
- Names of all known 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; and
- Any other relevant facts.
Please remember that it is okay if the student does not share all of the above information with you. You need only report what you know to the Title IX and Gender Equity Office. We want you to listen, not inquire, so report only what you heard.
You may report the information to the Title IX and Gender Equity Office in a way that you are most comfortable. The reporting options are:
- Complete an Online Report (if you are unable to fill out all of the required fields, simply enter “unknown”);
- Call the Title IX and Gender Equity Office at (408) 924-7290 during regular business hours;
- Call or text (669) 877-0620 (after hours);
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
We encourage you to be yourself in any conversation that involves a disclosure. After all, the impacted person is likely coming to you because they trust you. Included below are links to additional scripts based on specific scenarios that are intended to assist you with these conversations.