As an employee of the University you have an important role in identifying and responding to students who are experiencing IPV (sexual violence, relationship abuse, stalking, and/or harassment). Employees who receive a report/disclosure related to IPV should offer information about UNH's confidential support services (this includes SHARPP) at the time of receiving the report/disclosure. University employees have an obligation to report incidences of IPV when they receive notice of such incidents having occurred. For more information or questions related to university employee reporting requirements, contact UNH's Civil Rights & Equity Office.
How to respond to a student who may have experienced abuse or an assault
As faculty and staff members, you may find yourself in the position of suspecting that a student has been impacted by interpersonal violence, or you may be faced with responding to a direct disclosure from a student. These types of experiences can be traumatic for any individual and can impact a student's ability to eat, sleep, and concentrate in class or on their assignments. Over time, trauma can have serious long-term, negative effects on a student’s educational experience. Faculty and staff are often among the first to notice that a student is struggling. However, they may not fully understand what they are seeing or know how to help. In these situations, faculty and staff members can play an important role in helping a student access appropriate support and resources.
Recognize, Respond, Refer: Working with students impacted by trauma
In some instances, a student may disclose an assault or other trauma they have experienced either verbally or in writing. When this happens, the student is letting you know that they have made the decision to trust you. This can feel like both an honor and a responsibility. In other instances, a student may not disclose, but you may begin to notice subtle (or conspicuous) changes in their behavior or academics that suggest that something might be wrong. These signals may present immediately after the incident or even weeks to months later and could include:
- Lack of attendance – the student may stop attending class or attend intermittently. This may be caused by depression or irregular sleep patterns brought on by trauma. The student might leave a class session suddenly and without warning.
- Incomplete or missing tests and assignments – trauma can impede a person’s ability to concentrate, making it difficult to study or complete assignments.
- Withdrawal – the student may become noticeably less social, no longer participating in projects, conversations, and/or classroom activities as they did in the past.
- Increased risk-taking – in contrast, or in combination with being withdrawn, the student may begin to engage in more high-risk behaviors such as excessive drinking/substance use or self- harm as a means of coping or escape.
It's important to note that these are just some examples of the ways in which trauma can surface for students impacted by IPV. This should not be interpreted as an all-encompassing/exhaustive list, but as a starting point for reflection. Faculty and staff members are often in a unique position to assess whether behaviors are different from or inconsistent with how the student has interacted or engaged previously.
Research consistently confirms the therapeutic importance of supportive, non-judgmental responses to disclosures of interpersonal violence. When a survivor discloses, the most important thing you can do is listen and show your compassion and concern. Responses like “I am so sorry,” “what happened wasn’t your fault,” and “how can I support you?” help promote survivors’ healing and let them know that they are not alone. Survivors report that responses that appear to blame the victim or that attempt to investigate or solve the crime have the negative impact of causing the survivor to shut down and avoid seeking further help or support.
If you suspect that a student may have been impacted by a traumatic experience, but haven’t received confirmation through a disclosure, it can be helpful to reach out to them and simply ask if there is something wrong. Many students don’t feel that they can ask for help, especially from faculty/staff members. When approaching a student, let them know that you have noticed something that concerns you and that you just want to make sure they are okay (or if they are not, that they get the support they need). It’s important to let the student know that disclosures of IPV need to be reported to the University, so it might be best to keep details vague should a student not desire a report. If the student would like further assistance, you will help them connect with an office on campus where they can talk confidentially.
It is expected that all UNH employees, except those protected by confidentiality, who have knowledge of interpersonal violence involving a student, report that information to UNH's Civil Rights & Equity Office.
Employees play an important role in assisting students who have experienced trauma from IPV. As a faculty or staff member, it is important to understand that your role is not to provide counseling or begin an investigation, but to offer support and connect to community resources. Offices such as SHARPP, PACS, Health & Wellness, SAS, and The Beauregard Center provide key on-campus support for survivors of IPV. In addition, students who have experienced physical or sexual assault may consider seeking medical attention, even if they don’t report feeling injured. Students who report being in immediate danger or who want to report the crime may be referred to the police.
SHARPP provides confidential support, information, and advocacy, as well as police station & hospital accompaniments 24 hours/day to members of the UNH community. SHARPP’s trained staff and student advocates empower those we work with through a survivor-centered approach that educates each individual about their options and rights. Through a conversation with a SHARPP advocate, survivors have the chance to speak with an expert who knows both the UNH and community resources and who also has experience supporting survivors at UNH. SHARPP advocates can help survivors navigate conversations with their professors around academics, learn the distinctions between the NH Criminal Justice system and the UNH Conduct system, advocate for specific accommodations, and access Victims’ Compensation funds.
As a faculty or staff member, you serve an important role in helping survivors. By recognizing, responding and referring students, you are letting them know that you care about them and want to help.