How to Help as a Parent
As a parent, hearing news that your daughter or son has been victimized in any way is shocking and upsetting and finding out that your daughter or son has been a victim of sexual violence may be particularly difficult to bear.
Know that it is natural to feel angry, hurt and to have feelings of self-blame or helplessness. By confiding in you, your daughter or son has put a tremendous amount of trust in your relationship.
As a parent, your first reaction may be to try to “fix” the situation or make everything okay even while knowing this approach is not a viable option under these circumstances. Here are some strategies that you may find useful as you seek to help your daughter or son recover from this trauma:
- Believe your son or daughter.
- Remember that it’s often very difficult for a survivor to come forward and share their story and your reaction may have an impact on whether or not they choose to continue to share this information with others and seek further support. Tell your son or daughter that you believe them and you want to support them in any way that you can.
- It is natural when listening to a story to want to ask questions and get details about what transpired. In this situation however, it is best to allow the survivor to control what and how much they would like to tell you about the incident. You should listen actively and non-judgmentally. Reiterate that you are there to listen and support and allow the survivor to dictate when and how much they wish to say.
- Assure your daughter or son that it is not her or his fault.
- Self-blame is common among victims of sexual violence. It is important that, as their parent, you help the survivor understand that no matter what happened—it was not their fault. It can be very hard for parents to hear the circumstances of their child's assault, especially if s/he voluntarily consumed alcohol or drugs, engaged in consensual sex, or was involved in any other activities of which you might not approve. Try to keep these thoughts to yourself until much later—there will always be time to discuss these issues. In the immediate term, your child needs your unequivocal support as s/he begins the healing process.
- Allow your son or daughter to control next steps
- It is natural to want to try to fix the problem but know that healing from this event will take a great deal of time and your son or daughter must maintain the ability to choose how they wish to go about that healing process. You may provide advice, guidance and information about their options for additional support, but allow them to decide if, when and how they will pursue these resources.
- Don't forget to support yourself
- Supporting your son or daughter through a trauma can a difficult and emotionally draining experience for those in the support role as well. Recognize this and don’t hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it. You cannot effectively support your loved ones without being mindful of your own health and well-being.
Most of the resources listed in the Resources section of this site are available to both survivors and those supporting survivors. Don't hesitate to use them to educate yourself about sexual assault and the options that exist for survivors, and don't hesitate to use them for your own support and self-care.
For the Parents of a Student Accused of Sexual Assault
If you learn that your son or daughter has been accused of sexual assault under the University of Virginia's policy you can contact the Office of the Dean of Students to access resources and to talk about how you can best support your student through this difficult experience.