As a parent, learning that your child was the victim of sexual violence can be incredibly overwhelming. Feeling rage, helplessness, guilt, anguish, fear and anxiety is natural. You might feel the urge to hurry up and “fix” things even when you know that’s probably not possible. Here are some guidelines to help you support your student’s recovery.
What to say
- Believe and let them know that you are glad they felt comfortable sharing this with you. Speaking out is often very difficult for a victim. Your reaction can strongly influence whether or not they choose to share information with others, including the police, the university or mental and physical health counseling services.
- Assure and reassure them that what happened was not their fault. Self-blame and self-doubt are common reactions of victims of sexual violence.
What to do
- Listen. It might feel like a role-reversal, but in this situation, as a parent, your job is to listen actively and non-judgmentally. Let your student control what and how much information they want to share with you. Digging for every detail can overwhelm or alienate them. Tell them you are there to listen and support them.
- Accept that your student might not have come to you before their friends, professors, university administration, counselors, or others. Don’t put them on the defense. What matters is that they came to you now. Now is the time to support them and help them heal.
- Allow your student to decide the next steps. There is no way to undo the past. Victim/survivors of sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking need to maintain the ability to control the next steps and their personal healing process. Where possible, offer guidance and information about available resources and additional support, but let them choose.
- Control Your Emotions. It is natural to grieve with your student but try to control your emotions when talking about what happened. It’s hard for a student to see their parent struggle or lose emotional control, and they might feel guilt or shame for sharing their situation with you.
- Check-in. Check-in with your student regularly and remind them that you love and support them. Healing is not linear and following up with your student let's them know that they have your long-term support.
Seek out support for yourself. Neglecting your own emotional, mental and physical health to take care of your student will make it more difficult for you to support your student. Many of the resources available to your student are available to you too.