Information for parents
For parents of students who have been sexually assaulted
Finding out that your son or daughter has been sexually assaulted can be a parent’s worst nightmare, and the situation can be much harder to deal with when your child is away at college and you can’t physically be there for them. But if your child turns to you for help, there are many ways that you can show your support, even from afar.
In addition to the guidelines for supporting a loved one who has been sexually assaulted, keep in mind these ground rules when helping your student cope with a sexual assault.
- Understand if your child doesn’t tell you about the assault immediately or if they don’t come to you first. There are a number of reasons why they might avoid telling you about it, but rather than focusing on why they delayed coming to you, you should direct your energy into helping them heal. Don’t ask them to defend or justify their decision.
- Be honest with your child about your feelings — it’s ok to admit that it’s a difficult topic to discuss, but be clear that you are willing to talk and listen about anything. It’s ok to grieve with your child, BUT ...
- Control your emotions when talking to your child about the assault. You will probably feel many things including sadness, anger, guilt or even shame, but try not to let your feelings overshadow those of your child. It is hard for children to see their parents struggle, and they might feel guilty for upsetting you if your emotions get out of hand.
- Realize that you can’t fix the problem. You might feel tempted to push your child to seek legal justice or other types of “solutions," but there is no way to make an assault go away. Let your child make their own decisions and be supportive of those choices.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself and spend time coming to terms with your own feelings about the assault — seek professional help if you need to. Among other emotions, you might be feeling guilty, helpless or angry toward the person who assaulted your child. These reactions are expected, but you are not expected to deal with them by yourself.
You can contact the Office of the Dean of Students for more information about resources for you and your child, but first be sure that your child is comfortable with that. It is important to respect your child’s privacy.
For parents of students who have been accused of sexual assault
It can be confusing and overwhelming when your child is accused of a crime, especially a crime as serious and difficult to talk about as sexual assault. Many of the guidelines for supporting a loved one who has been sexually assaulted can also apply to supporting someone who has been accused of assault, but here are some additional guidelines for parents of someone who has been accused:
- Be available to listen if your child decides that they want to discuss the accusations, and try to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to open and honest discussion.
- Recognize that there is a difference between showing support for your child and showing support for your child’s actions. You can accept and love your child as a person even if you don’t agree with their behavior.
- Avoid making any judgments or placing any blame on your child or your child’s accuser — if you weren’t there, you can’t say for sure what happened.
You can contact the Office of the Dean of Students for more information about resources for you and your child. The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which reviews alleged violations of the student code of conduct, is housed within the Office of the Dean of Students.