As we close out Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we wanted to share some tips for responding to abuse disclosures from young people. Even if you aren’t a mandated reporter, reading through the tips below can help you navigate these difficult and often highly-emotional situations. Practicing how you would react can also help to make a real life disclosure go more smoothly.
- If a disclosure is made publicly, move the conversation to a more private setting before asking for additional information or discussing next steps
- Be empathetic
- Make sure the young person is feeling safe right now
- Ask what they need in this moment (space, time, water, a snack, etc.)
- Let them know it’s okay if they don’t want to answer questions; they can tell you as much or as little as they want
- Give them an overview of what is going to happen (“I’m going to ask you some questions about what happened, then I’m going to make a phone call to report this. You can be in the room with me when I call or not, whatever feels best to you. Either way I want you to know that your information will be kept confidential, which means I will only share this information with people who need to know.”).
- Let them know their parent(s)/guardian will likely be notified and provide space for their reaction
- Tell them they have done nothing wrong, you can even emphasize that it was brave and good for them to tell you
- Remain neutral (Put your own feelings aside and be aware of your body language and facial expressions)
- Take space after you are no longer with the youth to feel and process your emotions (alone, with a supervisor, or with a designated professional)
- Take notes and be precise (if they are uncomfortable with you taking notes, write down what you remember immediately after meeting with them and before making the report for more clear relay)
- Report the abuse quickly
- Ask about clothing, drinking or drug use
- Ask about previous sexual partners or encounters
- Give your personal opinion
- Make comments on their age
- Ask why they waited to disclose (if applicable)
- Blame the person disclosing
- Make any assumptions (about lifestyle, home life, education etc.)
- Hover or stand above the youth (get on eye level with them)
- Interrogate (asking only a few questions to get the general idea of what happened is enough, once a report is made they will have to tell the “whole story” to a trained interviewer and it is important that they have the stamina to tell their story then)
- Don’t tell unnecessary third parties (it is important to keep confidentiality of the youth beyond the report or speaking with a required direct supervisor; other co-workers friends or family members don’t need to know about the event(s).)
Remember, to make a report you do not need to gather proof or evidence. A young person’s word is not only enough but, for mandated reporters, the legal requirement for making a report. You only need to try to gather basic information:
- Name of youth disclosing
- What happened?
- Where did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Who is the perpetrator?
If you don’t have or can’t get all of this information, that is okay and you still have to file a report. They person receiving and documenting your report will go over the information that you do have with you.
Being the adult that a young person discloses to can be difficult. However you feel or whatever comes up for you when someone discloses abuse is okay. Your role is to support them in the moment by providing the resources and information they need to connect with counselors, advocates and/or healthcare professionals. Once you’ve connected the young person to resources and support, take care of yourself.
For more information, check out the resources below! You can also text us your questions by sending SEXED to 57890.