As a parent it can be extremely difficult and overwhelming to hear that your student has been sexually assaulted. It can be hard to know how to act or what to say. The most important thing you can do is help them feel safe and supported. Students at Boston University have a number of resources available to assist them in dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.

Everyone responds differently to sexual assault. Frequent responses include feelings of fear, distress, humiliation, anger, confusion, numbness, and guilt. It is important that survivors are allowed to experience and process through these feelings without the fear of having them invalidated or dismissed.

How to Help as a Parent

Believe the survivor when they confide in you. Don’t pressure them to talk. It is better to go slowly and let them set the pace. Listen and help them process through their feelings. Validate their anger, pain, and fear. These are natural responses that need to be felt, expressed, and heard. It is okay to tell them that this is a difficult topic for you to talk about. Let them know that you are open to talk about anything, even if it is uncomfortable.

Do not blame them, or yourself. Avoid asking “why” questions as much as possible because these often imply blame. Focus on their needs. If they didn’t tell you immediately about the assault, listen to their reasons. It is very common for survivors to wait before sharing with people they love. Reassure them that they have your love and support.

Take the necessary steps to protect and ensure your student’s safety. Encourage them to seek medical attention, or alternative housing if necessary. Understand that they have the right to decide what steps are necessary to take. It’s important that they regain a sense of control. Sexual assault is a crime that takes away an individual’s power. It can make them feel invaded, changed, and out of control. It is crucial for survivors to be able to make their own decisions in order to regain power over their own lives.

Discuss with the survivor their options and ask them what they want to do next. This may or may not include contacting a counselor, advocate, judicial officer and/or the police. Reporting a sexual assault crime can be a very difficult, long, and painful process. It is not an appropriate option for everyone, but a trained advocate can help you both navigate through their options.

Make sure they receive the professional care and support they may need. Counseling can be very helpful in assisting survivors through the healing process of coping with the sexual assault. Remember that every person’s healing process is unique.

Recognize their need for privacy. Their boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after a sexual assault.

Take care of yourself. Educate yourself about sexual assault and the healing process. Realize when you’ve reached your own limitations. Find a supportive person or counselor with whom you can share your strong feelings so that your conversations with your student can focus on their needs.

Seek immediate professional help if they display any suicidal behaviors or if you are worried about their emotional or physical well-being. Boston University Crisis Counselors are available 24/7 at the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center by calling 617-353-SARP (7277).