Letting people who have experienced violence have control over their story and resource seeking processes is important to their healing process. Experiencing violence often feels like a loss of agency or control, so it is important to provide someone with as much agency over their situation as possible.
Choosing the Environment
What feels safe and comfortable to us, depends on our identity, experience, and context. While one setting might make you feel safe and comfortable, might not be the setting which the person who wishes to disclose to you feels good in. In our in-person HAVEN trainings, HAVEN facilitators would model this by asking someone if they’d like the office door open or closed in a disclosure. The Gender Violence Service Coordinators model this by offering to meet students, staff, or faculty wherever they feel most comfortable. In an online setting, this could be choosing to communicate via voice call versus video call versus email.
Choosing direction of the conversation
Telling people what to do might feel good for you or like you’re being helpful – but directives and advice based on your life experiences can be disempowering or not what the person sharing with you is looking for. Let them talk about what feels most important to them at that time. If they’re more worried about completing assignments than going to counseling, address the academic concern first. Saying things like “Call the Police!” or “Break up with the person!” might feel like good ideas, but making (what may sound like demands) is telling the person that you are not listen and don’t value their choice even if that is not your intent. Your suggestions might not be what someone wants or needs in the moment.
Sometimes people aren’t ready to take any next steps yet. If that’s the case, you might offer yourself as someone they can come back to when they’re ready to look into other resources or offer to check in on them at a future date if they feel comfortable with that.
Relying on other Toolbox Tips such as Honoring Privacy, Offering Options Instead of advice, and Respecting their Choices can be helpful here. And if you’re not sure what to say, you can always come back to Brene Brown’s response “I don’t know what to say, but I’m so glad you told me.”
What if you’re a responsible employee?
Sometimes people who are Responsible Employees (REs) worry that their status prevents them from providing this control to the person who has experienced violence. REs provide an essential function to the University by providing information on resources, support, and reporting options to impacted individuals in a timely and consistent manner. Because REs are required to report incidents to the University, it is important that they disclose early in a conversation about their RE status and clearly explain their responsibilities and the reporting process. In providing this information to someone who is beginning to disclose an experience of violence, they are providing the individual agency over continuing to disclose to an RE or to seek a confidential resource to disclose to. If they choose to seek a confidential resource, you may offer to help them find one based on the resources we discussed in HAVEN or at safe.unc.edu.