by Nadiah Mohajir
The act of reporting is one of the single most courageous acts ever. The revictimization is so overwhelming, the social, emotional and physical consequences can be so overwhelming, that many find it nearly impossible to report. Because of this, the likelihood of it being a false report are slim to none, with only about 2%-8% of reports being false. As the third in a series of articles on sexual assault prevention (read part 1 here and part 2 here), we have included for you the basics of what you can do when someone discloses to you that they have been sexually abused or assaulted.
What you can do to Support Victims
Step 1: Believe them. The first, and most important, thing you can do for any victim when they disclose to you that they have been abused or assaulted, is to believe them.
Step 2: Encourage professional support. Familiarize yourself with the local resources in your community so that you can refer victims if necessary. However, remember to meet them where they are rather than telling them what they should be doing. Of course, the most ideal course of action is to go to a hospital to get examined and go to the police to file a report. However, the victim may not be mentally ready to do this just yet. Remember that being sexually assaulted is an act that strips the victim of his/her control – it is much more important to empower them to make their own decisions rather than telling them what to do. Of course, this is more appropriate for older victims, and not young children. For a complete list of victim support organizations, please refer to this resource and the list below.
Step 3: Report if you are a mandated reporter. The guidelines for mandated reporting and who is a mandated reporter differ by state, but generally, mandated reporters are: teachers, principals and other school personnel, social workers, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals, law enforcement, clergy, and board members. For more information on your state guidelines, please click here.
Step 4: Maintain the victim’s confidentiality, especially if the victim is a minor. Nobody needs to know the identity of the victim and there are crisis centers and advocates that are trained to hep you continue to offer the individual support they need without having to reveal their identity to others.
Step 5: Offer a victim-centric (one that protects the victim and makes him/her feel safe). If both the victim and abuser are part of the same institution, make sure the victim feels safe while the investigation proceeds. For example, the victim in a school may need:
- To request a class room change
- To request a specialized homework or exam schedule from their teachers
- Additional counseling sessions
- To be physically separated from their abuser (if they share the same office space or classroom space)
What you can do to Prepare your Institution to Properly Respond to such Allegations
Those in leadership positions at institutions often wonder what steps they should be taking to ensure that the institution is prepared should they have to address allegations. Below are some steps that organization leaders can start taking in order to ensure that they can address a situation swiftly and appropriately.
Step 1: Create policies and procedures. Bring best practices regarding policies such as making sure you have up-to-date manuals, security cameras, and other staff and facility policies in place that put in place preventative measures in your institutions. Make sure that your staff is reminded of these policies, and that these policies are readily available and accessible on your institution’s website. Develop a standard process to follow should your institution be made aware of allegations. Things to consider are processes
- to inform parents and other constituents of any supposed danger
- to take the necessary preventive measures with the abuser (does he/she need to be suspended? or removed from interacting with young children, etc)
- to address the victim needs in a way that is confidential and empowering
- to investigate if there are more individuals that have been victimized by the alleged abuser
Step 2: Hire a counselor specially trained to address complaints. If your institution already doesn’t have a trained social services professional or counselor, consider hiring one. If funding is an issue, consider sharing such a professional between two or more institutions or partnering with a local crisis center to serve this role until your institution is ready to bring one on full-time. You can also designate a few staff members to be trained as victim advocates by taking a 40-hour training by a local crisis center.
Step 3: Develop a procedure to collect anonymous reports. Often times, people do not report abuse that they suffered or witnessed, out of fear of being penalized for coming forward with that information. Not having a procedure for anonymous reports can be a significant barrier for someone who has endured or witnessed something. Many universities are now developing a system where students can submit anonymous complaints to a confidential, third party service.
Step 4: Develop a procedure to resolve complaints. Once you receive a complaint, it is imperative to address it in a timely manner. Not considering it seriously or delaying a response can be very disheartening to a victim, and also gives the abuser the opportunity to continue to victimize others. Work with a crisis center or other trained professionals in developing an objective and fair process to address victim complaints in a way that still honors the privacy and needs of the victim.
Step 5: Have students and staff and faculty engage in annual trainings, as well as ongoing awareness and education efforts throughout the year. It is important to note that simply having one training a year is not going to prevent sexual assault from occurring at your institution. Preventing sexual assault requires a shift in the organizational culture and tone, and it is necessary to have ongoing awareness and education efforts throughout the year, and not just at the beginning of the year.
We recognize that many Islamic institutions may not have the budget to incorporate all of these changes at once, and so we recommend an excellent way to fill the gap is to partner with their local rape crisis center and social services to help meet those needs while enough funding and resources are secured to bring such services in-house.
Important Resources to Keep on Hand*
National Sexual Assault Line – 1-800-656-HOPE
Rape Crisis Hotline 1-888-293-2080
DCFS Number for Mandated Reporters – 1-800-25-ABUSE (1-800-252-2873)
Illinois Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline – 312-745-3401 toll-free number: 1-877-863-6338
TOOLKITS AND OTHER RESOURCES
National Sexual Violence Resource Center Publications Database – extensive database that allows you to search by topic
Project Callisto – an empowering, transparent and anonymous way to report sexual assault on college campuses (not yet available on all campuses)
* this list is no where near comprehensive, and we will continue to build this list.