Responding to Disclosures on Campus

Scenarios in this training demonstrate unsupportive ways to respond to disclosures of sexual violence so that you can observe responses to avoid.

A critique of unsupportive responses can help avoid using these in the future. There are lots of underlying reasons for people to respond ineffectively. This can include discomfort on the part of the listener, lack of awareness about the seriousness and harm caused by of sexual violence, feeling helpless to fix the situation, lack of knowledge about supports and information and so on.

A few what not to do’s are:


  • minimize the violence (e.g., saying things like “well at least you weren’t” or “it could have been worse” or “don’t worry, it will all be fine”)
  • take over and make decisions on the survivor’s behalf
    try to “fix” it
  • make promises that cannot be kept
  • take a questioning approach (e.g., “why did you”)
  • treat the person differently or avoid them later
  • over-react

In Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women, the authors compiled research on types of ineffective responses to disclosures of sexual violence:

Victim blaming includes suggesting that the survivor is lying, that they could have prevented the assault from occurring, or telling the survivor that they are to blame and should be ashamed of the experience.

Treating differently means that the support source treats the survivor as if they are damaged, avoids talking or spending time with the survivor, and treats them differently after the disclosure.

Self-centered responses are characterized by the responder caring too much about their personal feelings and not enough about the survivor’s feelings. Responders may overreact and need reassurance from the survivor, feel personally wronged or interrupted or burdened by having to adjust their time, or become invested in seeking revenge on behalf of the survivor.

There are many ways in which people might respond unsupportively to a disclosure of violence. Some of these unsupportive responses include victim blaming, encouraging the survivor to keep the violence secret, taking control, making decisions for the survivor without permission, minimizing the seriousness of violence, compromising confidentiality and aligning with the perpetrator.

View the Unsupportive Video Montage Below: