BARRIERS TO DISCLOSURE
There are many reasons for survivors to disclose experiences of sexual violence. Motivations include: seeking assistance or emotional support, reducing the burden of sexual violence by sharing; wanting to protect self and others from violence in the future; raising awareness about sexual violence in the community; or seeking justice by holding the perpetrator accountable.
Many students are worried about confidentiality and believe that reporting will open up their personal lives to public judgment and scrutiny. Some may feel a sense of vulnerability when thinking about the possible physical examinations and questions they may face.
Others may be anxious that by reporting they will “lose control” of what happens to them. Survivors may believe that they will be forced to press charges or take other actions dictated by the institution or the police and courts.
They may be concerned that their parent(s) will be notified and that they will be pulled out of school or have their living arrangements changed. Some survivors may not report because they believe that nothing will happen to the perpetrator.
The process of disclosure is not linear or predictable. Survivors disclose on their own time. This can be right after the incident or it may be weeks or months later. They may partially disclose, accidentally disclose, recant and then reaffirm.
Concerns about the formal reporting process is a common barrier for survivors disclosing sexual violence.
Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act requires that:
- every college or university ensure that its sexual violence policy provides information about all processes related to reporting or making complaints, the office or department and measures that may be implemented for the purpose of protecting a person from retaliation.
- When students do choose to disclose, the first person they tell will likely be someone they trust such as a classmate, roommate, coach, staff or faculty member, friend or family member. The nature of that response can have a significant effect on the victim’s well-being and decisions about next steps.
- A student’s disclosure of sexual violence to an employee of a college or university may not be the first time the survivor has relayed the events of the assault, but it is the first time that responder may be hearing about it. In that moment, an effective response means a great deal. It is an opportunity to initiate support, tangible intervention and resources, whatever the purpose of the disclosure.
Institutional policies and protocols can play a valuable role in creating campus environments where survivors feel safe coming forward and get the help they need.