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McMaster University's Sexual Violence Support Site is also a place where campus members can find tips on how to provide the best support possible to survivors who disclose sexual, intimate partnership or family violence including rape.


Providing support to someone who has experienced sexual, intimate or family violence may feel overwhelming or frightening. You might be worried about what to say or about saying the wrong thing and perhaps making things worse for the person who has disclosed to you.

These feelings aren’t unusual.

It’s okay to not have all the answers. Sometimes the most important things you can do for a survivor are to listen and to simply be present for them. And it’s important for you to know that you’re not alone. This website gives you some ideas and direction on how to respond to disclosures. And, you can always contact the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator for assistance.

In addition to finding ways to support the survivor, it’s important for you to recognize that receiving disclosures may impact your emotional wellbeing. Make sure you’re finding ways to take care of yourself and your own needs. If you find yourself being negatively impacted in any way by the process of receiving disclosures, try to find someone you trust to talk to about the reactions you’re having. Also, please consider contacting the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator to talk about your experiences and how to get support.

Steps to Take If You Receive a Disclosure of Sexual, Intimate or Family Violence:

Ensure that the disclosure takes place in a quiet area where privacy is protected.

Ask: "Is your safety at risk?"

  • If the safety of the survivor or any other member of the community is at risk, contact McMaster Security Services at 905.525.9140 x 24281 or dial “88” from a University phone.
  • If you are witnessing a current act of violence on campus, contact McMaster Security Services at 905.522.4135 (direct line) or dial “88” from a University phone.
  • If safety is not at risk, ask the individual if they would prefer to move to a more comfortable/private location, such as an office, an empty classroom, or the office of the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator, MUSC (Student Centre), Room 212.

It is your responsibility to inform the person making the disclosure of any limits to confidentiality before they disclose identifying information. If in doubt, offer to refer the individual to the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator at 905.525.9140 x 20909 or rossm4@mcmaster.ca to discuss issues and guarantees related to confidentiality. (Refer to Confidentiality section).

Make a plan to follow up with the individual, and follow up in the agreed-upon way. Ask if they are in need of any support or information. Offer concrete examples of ways in which you are able to provide additional assistance.

If you have questions or concerns, please follow up with the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator at 905.525.9140 x 20909 or rossm4@mcmaster.ca. It is your responsibility to maintain the anonymity of all parties when consulting with any other office or individual.

Ask the survivor if they would like more information about the role of the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator in the Equity and Inclusion Office. The Sexual Violence Response Coordinator can assist with the following as requested by the survivor:

  • Assist with safety planning;
  • Facilitate referrals to community agencies and University resources;
  • Coordinate academic accommodations through respective Faculty Offices;
  • Coordinate temporary or permanent housing relocation for students in residence through Residence Life, or off campus through community agencies;
  • Coordinate referral to on and off campus medical services;
  • Coordinate emergency financial assistance through the Student Financial Aid Office (for students) at 905.525.9140 x 24319;
  • Coordinate referrals to on and off campus trauma-informed counselling services;
  • Provide information about criminal and non-criminal reporting options;
  • Assist with decision making and navigating University processes or legal systems;
  • Manage the flow of information amongst departments or offices, with explicit and informed consent from the survivor.

It is important that people supporting survivors and/or receiving disclosures access support for themselves. If you would like to speak with someone, you can call the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton & Area 24hr Support Line at 905.525.4162 or speak to the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator.

A supportive and validating initial response to disclosures of sexual violence makes a significant difference for survivors who may be apprehensive about sharing deeply personal or difficult information. Here are some ways you can communicate support and concern:

  • Let the survivor maintain as much control over the pace of the disclosure as possible. Allow them to finish without interrupting. Offer breaks when needed.
  • Listen carefully to what the survivor says and acknowledge the courage it took for them to come forward. Ask if they would like to contact a member of their support network to be with them while you clarify additional supports and resources that would be useful to them.
  • Do not make dismissive or victim blaming comments. Questioning what the survivor was wearing or suggesting that the assault wasn’t “that bad” may result in the survivor feeling judged, disbelieved, blamed or a range of other negative emotions.
  • Refrain from asking the person to disclose specific details about the incident. Intrusive questioning about the assault may cause the survivor to feel that they are being interrogated and may heighten their sense of vulnerability.
  • Be careful about physical contact. Only make limited physical contact with the person with their consent; e.g., a touch on the shoulder or a gentle hug. Some survivors may be upset or anxious about physical contact following an assault.
  • Create time and space for the individual to determine what decisions best suit their particular circumstances. Do not impose decisions on the individual who has trusted you with the disclosure.

An important part of being helpful to a person who has experienced sexual violence is to provide them with comprehensive information about their options and the resources that are available to them (svrp.mcmaster.ca). Navigating community and university resources after experiencing sexual violence can be difficult. Your role is to assist the survivor in locating resources that they need and want.

Ask: "Would you like to discuss some community and university resources that might be useful for you at this time?"

If the sexual assault took place within the last 7 days, or if there are injuries from physical assault, inform the individual of the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (SA/DVCC) of Hamilton: 905.521.2100 x 73557 or visit www.hhsc.ca/sadv.

If the survivor wishes to call a University office or community agency, offer to sit with them as they place the call.

If the survivor gives you explicit permission to place the call on their behalf:

  • Identify yourself by name and position at the University.
  • Note that you are calling for someone else.
  • Ask any questions the survivor wishes answered.
  • Be sure to note the name, email address and extension number of a specific person with whom the survivor may follow up.

If appropriate and feasible, offer to accompany the survivor to any of the University or community resources of their choice.

Ask the survivor if it is safe for them to be in possession of hard copies of information about resources. If they think that having this information may jeopardize their safety or risk exposure, reassure them that they may revisit the information with you at a later point as required.

Respect the survivor’s right to choose whether to report the incident(s) to McMaster Security Services or to Hamilton Police Services. Explain that reports to McMaster Security Services will be referred to Hamilton Police Services. Do not report the incident(s) yourself (see Confidentiality, page 6).

Do not pressure the survivor to seek further assistance if they decline to do so.

  1. Safety planning involves anticipating risks to an individual’s safety, and developing concrete strategies to manage these risks to reduce the impact of recurring violence. Your role is to assist the person making the disclosure in planning for their safety once your conversation ends, and to direct them to a community support worker if needed (svrp.mcmaster.ca).

    Ask: "Do you have any concerns for your safety as you leave [your location] today?"

    Individuals may minimize concerns for their safety. Support the survivor in identifying their safety concerns.

    For on and off-campus accommodation options, follow link to website: svrp.mcmaster.ca

  2. If you are in a position of authority over the survivor (e.g., if you are their supervisor, manager, or instructor) you are responsible for creating a safe environment while the individual is at work or in class as per the McMaster University Policy on Violence in the Workplace.

    Ask: "How can we ensure your safety at work and/or in class?"

    You may offer to screen calls and visitors, remind administrative staff to keep all information confidential, relocate their office to a safer part of the building, or make alternate work or study arrangements to increase the survivor’s safety. You may also offer to update emergency contact information or arrange for an escort to and from their vehicle or to the bus stop by contacting the Student Walk Home Attendant Team – SWHAT, x 27500 or visit MUSC 226. For more options visit the Resources section of the website: svrp.mcmaster.ca.

    For more information on preventing violence in the workplace, see Program & Guidelines on Violence in the Workplace or consult with the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator at 905.525.9140 x 20909 or rossm4@mcmaster.ca.

Not sure where to turn?

Meaghan Ross Profile Picture

Meaghan Ross
Sexual Violence Response Coordinator
rossm4@mcmaster.ca
(905) 525-9140 Ext. 20909
McMaster University Student Centre (MUSC)
Room 212

Confidentiality Statement

Your Limits to Confidentiality

If you receive a disclosure concerning sexual violence, it is important that you inform the person making the disclosure of your commitment to keep confidential all information that is provided.

It is also important to inform the person disclosing information that there are limits to confidentiality.

If the person making the disclosure wishes to speak with someone other than yourself, you are advised to refer them to the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator at 905.525.9140 x 20909 or rossm4@mcmaster.ca. If outside business hours refer to the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton & Area 24hr Support Line at 905.525.4162.

Please note: this referral should be made before the person discloses the details of the incident(s) of sexual violence and/or any identifying information about involved parties.