Here are ways to support a friend, colleague, or mentee who tells you about an experience of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, or some other form of sexual misconduct.
For faculty, staff, and student employees
Explain that you must report what you are told to the college.
With few exceptions, all college employees (including students approached in the context of their student employment, such as Junior Counselors) must report to the college whenever they are told of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct — even if the affected person requests confidentiality. This enables the college to respond to the incident, both for the well-being of the person who has been harmed and for the well-being of the St. Olaf community.
However, this is not an easy thing to say early in a conversation, since the person who has approached you is probably expecting that whatever he/she shares with you will remain confidential, and may be expressing strong emotions as well. But the sooner you explain your obligation to report, the more control your friend, colleague, or mentee will have over the information that is reported to the college. You can provide immediate assurance that neither you nor the college will publically identify him or her, and that you will share information only with the individual to whom you send the report.
It may be that the person who is coming to you for support is already planning to tell the college what happened, so identifying yourself as a non-confidential resource will not be a barrier to your conversation. But if your friend, colleague, or mentee is not sure, or is not ready to report, you can immediately refer him/her to a confidential resource who can listen to their story without being required to report it to the college. And you can certainly take all the other steps indicated below even without knowing the details of the person’s experience.
Listen and affirm
Different people respond in different ways to an experience of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other form of sexual misconduct. They may feel anger, fear, denial, embarrassment, confusion, or guilt — or all of those feelings at once. Some may appear calm and logical, while others may seem dazed or uncertain. People’s feelings and needs can also change over time. Because each person’s circumstances, needs, and wishes are different, your ability to listen with care and compassion is one of the most valuable forms of support you can offer.
It’s also important to ask what he or she would find helpful — especially because the experience of harassment or assault is often accompanied by a sense of powerlessness or loss of control. Whether or not the person shares the details of what happened, you can assure him or her of your personal care and concern.
Your friend, colleague, or mentee may need help identifying, evaluating, or accessing the different types of resources that are available, both on and off-campus, for people hurt by sexual harassment or misconduct. You can:
- Help him/her sort through options for immediate help or ongoing support
- Help him/her understand the difference between confidential resources (who are not required to report the incident to the college), and non-confidential resources (who are required to report); see a summary of options
- Assist him/her in contacting the Faribault Hope Center (800-607-2330) or the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673 or online).
- Offer to go with him/her to someone who can help in person, such as a JC or an RA, a staff member in the Dean of Students Office (Tomson 148), a college pastor (Boe Chapel, lower level), a SARN advocate (Buntrock Commons 113), Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld (Tomson 259), or any other member of the Title IX team.
St. Olaf encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, or some other form of sexual misconduct to report to the college. This will enable the college to take measures to stop the behavior, prevent it from occurring in the future, and provide support, resources, and protection — including a no-contact order. A person may report to the college without initiating a formal complaint (which results in an investigation and, potentially, disciplinary action) or reporting to law enforcement. If your friend, colleague, or mentee has been harassed, assaulted, or affected in some other way by sexual misconduct, you can help him/her understand the benefits and process of reporting, and offer to assist in doing so.
Supporting someone who has been harassed or assaulted is not easy. You may sometimes be at a loss for words, or worry that you will say or do the wrong thing. You may also have some of the same feelings that your friend is experiencing — anger, confusion, deep sadness, or anxiety. The support resources available to people who have been harassed, assaulted, or harmed in other ways are available to you as well. You can also increase your understanding and awareness of the effects of sexual harassment and misconduct by clicking on the Get Educated navigation tab at left.
Keep checking in
The effects of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct may last a long time, and your friend’s needs and concerns may change along the way. While always respecting your friend’s needs and wishes, you can continue to offer to listen, support, and encourage him or her in the process of recovery, whatever that process may involve.