As a educator, you have tremendous potential to shape student behavior and norms — not only for students during their time in high school or college but also in their lives moving forward. You can be an ally to student activists trying to improve school climate, an advocate on “the inside” for better school policies, and a resource for students looking to better understand the issue.
It may feel strange or intimidating to discuss the details of a student’s private life, especially in an academic setting. However, don’t reject your student’s attempt to reach out to you. Be supportive, suggest resources, and be clear with the student about any school policies that make it necessary for you to alert the administration, public safety, or health services about the assault.
Be a resource. Educate yourself on school policy and what your job requires in terms of mandatory reporting. Believe and listen (with empathy and without judgment) to students who come to you with experiences of sexual violence. Help direct them to appropriate school and community resources.
Be clear and upfront with students about your role as a mandatory reporter. You can say something like: “I need to tell you that I am considered a mandated reporter. I must inform the school and/or law enforcement that abuse has occurred. If you do not want details of what occurred reported or are not interested in making a complaint at this time, you have the right to maintain your privacy. I will only report what you confide in me.” Make sure to tell the student about resources and support they can access confidentially.
Be supportive and understanding of student survivors and their needs. Sexual violence and dating abuse are difficult and traumatic experiences. Give student victims time to heal and advocate for and accommodate their needs (such as giving them extensions on work, working with the Title IX coordinator to expunge poor grades due to the lingering effects of violence, and allowing them to step outside the classroom if they feel triggered). Many of these accommodations are required under Title IX.
Label triggering material. If you are covering material about sexual violence — such as reading a book or watching a movie that contains scenes of sexual violence — consider giving students a warning about the potentially distressing content of the material, and giving students the opportunity to leave the room if necessary. Adding a brief note to a syllabus about such content and available resources can make a real difference in students’ lives. Here’s an example that you can adopt to your school’s particular context:
Sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and dating violence, is a form of gender discrimination that violates the civil rights law Title IX and is prohibited by [school name]’s policy. [School name] is committed to providing an education that is free from sexual misconduct and other civil rights violations. You can learn more about gender violence, Title IX, and your rights at: http://knowyourix.org. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you may call in confidentially to the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673), contact the dating violence hotline (http://www.loveisrespect.org/for-yourself/contact-us/), or visit [your city name]’s rape crisis center at [address and telephone number].
Asterisks (*) next to assignments below mark material that may bring up painful memories or emotions for survivors of sexual violence. Please consider reaching out to me, [principal name], [Title IX coordinator name and contact info], and/or one of the confidential hotlines listed above if you need support or assistance.
Use teachable moments in the classroom. If the class is covering a book with violent content, take the opportunity to talk to your class about the issue and provide them with further resources.
Combat rape culture. Call out sexist jokes and racist, homophobic, and transphobic language. Teach students about how to be active bystanders.
Support student-led efforts. Consider sponsoring and mentoring a student group against gender-based violence. Ask students how you can best support their efforts. And help spread the word about Title IX by postering your school.
Talk to your school about Title IX compliance. If there is a Title IX compliance group, ask to get involved. If not, ask who your Title IX Coordinator is and share your concerns.
Work with the school to create a Sexual Assault Response Team or Title IX compliance group. Start a group to foster relationships with local rape crisis centers providing support for students; work with the nurse’s office to provide print resources for students that detail school and state policies and where to get help; educate students about their right to be safe at school; and work with the school guidance department to put together a resource of mental health professionals in the area who are trained to deal with issues of sexual violence.
This page is a combination of “Supporting High School Survivors: Teachers” by Nina Gurak and Iris Z. and “Support a Survivor” by Katarina Hyatt.