Students Supporting Students

University students who have experienced sexual violence often confide in and seek support from fellow students before accessing professional service providers. If a fellow student turns to you for support following an incident of sexual violence, your help could be an invaluable source of affirmation and comfort.

In order to be an effective support person, while also taking care of yourself, you may want to follow the peer support guidelines suggested below. Although some of these things might seem very simple, and each case of sexual violence is personal and unique, these guidelines will help you to ensure that a friend who has experienced sexual violence feels supported and in control—as much as possible—during this time of need.

  • Listen. Do not force students who have experienced sexual violence to say more than they are ready to, but remind them that you are there if they need to talk.
  • Affirm. Too often in our culture, those who have experienced sexual violence are blamed for what happened to them. Or, they are doubted and made to second guess their own instincts and experiences. If a student discloses sexual violence to you, make sure to convey that you believe him or her and let the student know that what happened was not deserved.
  • Help to foster a sense of safety and comfort. Experiencing sexual violence can compromise one’s sense of personal security. Places that used to feel familiar and safe may feel uncertain and dangerous. On a college campus, tasks like walking to class or going to the dining hall may feel daunting. Offer to accompany a student who has experienced sexual violence, making sure that he or she arrive safely. Also, offer to spend time with him or her to ward off loneliness.
  • Be a resource and encourage professional assistance. Although it is important to be emotionally supportive of a student who has experienced sexual violence, it is important to remember that you are not a doctor or therapist. If a student discloses sexual violence to you, make sure he or she is aware of all the resources available at Methodist University and in the wider community. Make sure students know that there are many people who have been trained to help them face what has happened.
  • Follow their lead. After you have informed the student about the resources available, let he or she choose which path to follow and which professionals to contact. It can be tempting to tell a student who has experienced sexual violence what he or she should do, but this will only intensify the feeling of disempowerment. Likewise, allow the student who has experienced sexual violence to disclose information about the experience in his or her own time and in his or her own way. Unless you suspect that your friend is seriously depressed or suicidal, do not disclose information he or she shared confidentially. Sexual violence can take away the victim’s ability to make decisions for themselves. It is important that support people help to restore this ability.
  • Take care of yourself. If you are struggling to deal with your own emotions about what happened to your friend, talk to someone who is trained to address these issues. Just as there are many people at Methodist University who can help victims of sexual assault, so too are there many resources available for friends of victims. If you need assistance, consider contacting Counseling Services 910.630.7150, and/or the Office of Religious Life 910.630.7515, or talking to a RA (Residential Advisor).

Faculty & Staff Supporting Students

As a faculty or staff member, you are particularly well situated to help students who have experienced sexual violence. You are likely someone who students look up to and respect, and your guidance and support during a difficult time could be invaluable.

Although there is no single “right” way to help a student who has experienced sexual violence, below are some guidelines for identifying students who are struggling and offering them support.

Signs that a Student Might Need Help

Sexual violence can affect many areas of one’s life. Therefore, people who have experienced sexual violence may exhibit a range of behaviors. Generally speaking, though, students who are in emotional distress following an episode of sexual violence might:

  • Demonstrate a sudden change in class attendance, marked by excessive absences or excessive tardiness
  • Demonstrate a change in classroom participation patterns, marked by either decreased participation or increased and disruptive participation
  • Demonstrate diminishing interest in and/or ability to complete course assignments
  • Seem down or lethargic
  • Seem anxious, irritable, or hyperactive
  • Demonstrate a change in attire or personal hygiene
  • Undergo a noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Articulate feelings of hopelessness
  • Make implicit or overt reference to suicide–in face-to-face communication or in written assignments

What You Can Do

If you notice that a student is exhibiting these behaviors, you can offer support in several ways:

  • By initiating communication with general questions about the student’s well-being–“How have you been lately?” – “You seem anxious/down/distracted; is everything okay?”
  • By identifying yourself as a general support person–“I’m available to talk if you need anything”
  • By pointing your student toward general wellness resources, like Counseling Services 910.630.7150.

Even if a student is not ready to disclose sexual violence, and you are not sure that a student has experienced sexual violence, you can still establish yourself as a caring adult who is ready and willing to listen. While you would not want to put words in a student’s mouth–by insisting, for example, that they have experienced sexual violence–you can still make a positive difference just by identifying yourself as a concerned party who is paying attention.

If a student has disclosed sexual violence, you can offer support in several ways:

  • By affirming the student. We live in a culture in which victims of sexual violence are routinely doubted, undermined, and blamed for their own victimization. Simply believing goes a long way in this context.
  • By making sure that the student is not facing ongoing danger. If the student feels that their danger is persistent, you can direct them to contact Campus Security (910.630.7577).
  • By directing the student to resources specific to sexual violence. The student should choose the resources that are most appropriate. It is important that the student take the lead in determining the course of action. You can share knowledge with a student, but you shouldn’t make the decisions.
  • By helping the student to understand the reporting process on campus and the potential benefits of reporting. Again, you can encourage the student to file a formal report, but the decision is up to the student. Reporting takes a lot of courage, and should be the decision of the student.

Some Things to Think About

First and foremost, the University does not expect faculty or staff members to offer counseling to students. As already noted, Methodist University’s Counseling Services offers many resources for those who have experienced sexual violence.

All Methodist University employees, except those explicitly designated as confidential resources, are considered Responsible Employees. This means that they are required to inform a Title IX Coordinator (within 24 hours) of any instance of sexual or gender-based harassment/violence of which they gain knowledge. For more information about what it means to be a Responsible Employee, visit our Get Help page.

Campus Resources

Reporting Resources

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Mr. Matthew Dempster Dr. William Walker Dr. Todd Harris

Emergency Contacts

  • Methodist University Public Safety/Welcome Center, 910.630.7098 (24 hours)
  • Methodist University Police, 7577 (24 hours)

Confidential Resources

Medical Care

Support Services