Responding to Student Disclosures

How to Respond to a Student Who May Have Experienced Abuse or an Assault

As faculty and staff members, you may find yourself in the position of suspecting that a student has been impacted by sexual assault, relationship abuse or stalking. You may also be faced with responding to a direct disclosure. Statistically, we know that one in five women between the ages of 16 and 24 has been a victim of sexual assault. We also know that one in six men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime's Stalking Resource Center, 18-to 24-year-olds also have the highest rates of stalking victimization.

These types of experiences can be very traumatic for any individual, including students. They can impact students' ability to eat, sleep and concentrate in class or on their assignments. Over time, trauma can have serious long-term, negative effects on a student's educational experience. Faculty and staff often are among the first to notice that a student is struggling. However, they may not fully understand what they are seeing or know how to help. In these situations, faculty and staff members can play an important role in helping a student access the support and resources that can help the student begin to heal.

The Three Rs to Remember When Working With Students Impacted By Trauma


In some instances, a student may disclose an assault or other trauma they have experienced either verbally or in writing. When this happens, the student is letting you know that they have made the decision to trust you. This can feel like both an honor and a responsibility. In other instances, a student may not disclose, but you may begin to notice subtle or not so subtle changes in a student's behavior or academics that suggest that something might be wrong. These may occur immediately after the incident or weeks or even months later. They may include:

  • Lack of attendance – the student may stop attending class or attend intermittently. This may be caused by depression or irregular sleep patterns brought on by trauma
  • Incomplete or missing tests and assignments– trauma can impede a person's ability to concentrate, making it difficult to study or complete assignments
  • Withdrawal – the student may become noticeably less social, no longer participating in events, conversations and activities as s/he did in the past
  • Increased risk taking – in contrast or in combination with being withdrawn, the student may begin to engage in more high risk behaviors such as excessive drinking or self- harm as a means of coping or escape


Research conducted over the past several decades consistently confirms the therapeutic importance of supportive, non-judgmental responses to disclosures of sexual and relationship violence. When a survivor discloses, the most important thing you can do is listen and show your compassion and concern. Responses like "I am so sorry," "what happened wasn't your fault," and "how can I support you?" help promote survivors' healing and let them know that they are not alone. Survivors report that responses that appear to blame the victim or that attempt to investigate or solve the crime have the negative impact of causing the survivor to shut down and avoid seeking further help or support.

If you suspect that the student may have been impacted by a traumatic experience, but haven't received confirmation through a disclosure, it can be helpful to reach out to the student and simply ask if there is something wrong. Many students don't feel that they can ask for help, especially from faculty members. When approaching a student, let them know that you have noticed that something that concerns you and that you just want to make sure that they are okay, or if not, that they get the help they needs. It's important to let the student know that some disclosures need to be reported to the University, so that it might be best important to keep details vague. If the student would like further assistance, you will help them connect with an office on campus where they can talk confidentially.


Title IX obligates any faculty and staff except those protected by confidentiality (the Counseling Center and University Ministry) with knowledge of a sexual assault/act of sexual violence involving a student to report that information to the following:

Faculty and staff members play an important role in assisting students who have experienced trauma from sexual and relationship abuse. As first responders, faculty and staff's role is to help to the student know that there are community resources that can help. As faculty and staff, it is important to understand that your role is not to provide counseling or take on the problem for the survivor.

Students who have experienced physical or sexual assault should consider seeking medical attention, even if they don't report feeling injured. Students who report being in immediate danger or who want to report the crime should be referred to the police.

There are trained CARE Advocates on campus available to support students impacted by sexual assault. CARE Advocates are available to provide support to USD students who may have been impacted by sexual assault, sexual exploitation, harassment, and/or partner violence. They can help answer questions about the multiple processes involved in reporting and facilitate appropriate referrals to resources for students who have been impacted by sexual assault, harassment, and/or partner violence. Advocates are also available to accompany students to Public Safety, and/or an interview with Law Enforcement

To reach an advocate immediately, call Public Safety (619) 260-2222 and ask to speak to a CARE Advocate. If a student has been impacted by sexual assault or has questions about sexual assault, you are encouraged to connect them with an advocate.

Advocates can also be reached at their on campus office or via email.

Students can sometimes feel reluctant to seek help from strangers, so faculty and staff can opt to accompany the survivor or make a phone call on the student's behalf.

As a faculty or staff member you can serve an important role in helping survivors. By recognizing, responding and referring students, you are letting them know that you care about them and want to help.


University of New Hampshire Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program. (n.d.).Responding to student disclosure. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from