As a TA, you are often the first point of contact for students in a course; and so, you might also be in a position where students disclose information to you as it impacts their studies, such as incidents or experiences of sexual violence.
As a TA and member of the University community, you can provide a supportive response, and assist students in accessing further resources. Additionally, as a University of Waterloo employee, it is important for you to be aware of your responsibilities regarding confidentiality, and where limits to your confidentiality exist.
10.1 UW’s Definition of Sexual Violence
The definition of Sexual Violence can be found in Policy 42: Prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence:
“Sexual Violence means any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened, or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, and includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.”
Students on university and college campuses often describe sexual violence as looking like (but not limited to): unnecessary physical contact (unwanted hugs, brushing up against someone, and so forth); derogatory language, jokes and comments; continually requesting, or pleading for attention or sex.
10.2 Responding Supportively
Supportive responses to anyone impacted by sexual violence involve these key skills:
- Ensuring safety,
- If you have concerns for immediate safety, connect with crisis supports listed under #1 in the Limits to Confidentiality section below.
- Listening actively,
- Being non-judgmental about the survivor’s decisions and reactions,
- Assuring survivors that their experience of sexual violence is not their fault,
- Notifying students that they can request academic accommodations, and
- Students can seek assistance with accommodations via SVPRO
- Referring to the Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Office (SVPRO).
Learn more best practices for responding on SVPRO’s Responding to Disclosures webpage.
Receiving a disclosure of sexual violence can be difficult! If you need support after, consider connecting with SVPRO, the sexual violence supports listed on their website, or any of the resources listed in 9.4 of this TA Handbook.
10.3 Understanding Confidentiality of Disclosures
As a TA, you must maintain the confidentiality of the individual disclosing to you, as well as all information they shared with you.
The only times you should share information disclosed, without the individual’s consent, are in the following instances:
- An individual discloses immediate risk of suicide or that an identified individual is at risk of immediate harm; If this is happening, contact the relevant crisis services
- When someone under the age of 16 is experiencing abuse; If this is happening, consult with SVPRO on how to inform local child protective services.
- When campus safety may be compromised; If you have concerns about campus safety, consult with SVPRO on next steps.
In instances where none of the limits to your confidentiality (above) have been breached, it is still recommended that you consult with SVPRO about the disclosure:
- You do not need to share any identifying information.
- Consulting with SVPRO enables you to receive support, to debrief and to ensure all necessary support has been provided.
In some instances, you may also feel the need to share information with the course instructor. For example, the student may be requesting academic accommodations which only the professor can approve/provide. In this instance, it will be helpful for you to seek the student’s consent about what information they are comfortable you share with the professor.
If the student has not consented to you sharing information with the professor, and none of your limits to confidentiality (above) require you to do so, then remember to maintain the confidentiality of the individual as much as possible. For example, you can tell the professor that you received a disclosure of sexual violence from a student, that you provided them with X resources, and that the student is requesting X accommodation.
10.4 Training & Education
In-depth training on how to respond is available to you:
- Find an upcoming Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence virtual training offered by SVPRO (as well as other related awareness, education and training opportunities) on their website.
- Complete the Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence on University Campuses online training (receive a certificate for completing the entire course).