U of W staff learning how to talk to sex assault survivors

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U of W staff learning how to talk to sex assault survivors

A new program at the University of Windsor aims to improve services for people who have survived sexual assault by teaching professors and staff about how to handle it when they hear of an issue.

Faculty members who have participated in a pilot project for the past year say the course was a deep and intense experience.

Student conduct officer Danieli Arbex described the course as emotional, saying she took time to evaluate how she previously handled talking to people who had been assaulted.

Most of the time, Arbex explained, people don't need an elaborately strategic response.

"It isn't necessarily a sophisticated response that survivors are looking for," she said. "They really just want somebody to believe them. They just want to feel heard."

Emotionally stable people still struggling

Arbex also learned to recognize body language and to not misunderstand how a person might be feeling, even though they might not appear very upset.

Just because someone appears to be emotionally stable as they talk, doesn't mean they're not struggling, Arbex explained.

The workshops she and others participated in helped them know how to respond to a person when they reveal they've been assaulted.

Far too often people think of themselves and how they would want someone to respond, which can be devastatingly wrong, according to sexual assault prevention officer Dusty Johnstone.

"Maybe you think you're doing what is best to help someone, without knowing that you're doing the opposite," she said. "The experience is different for each person."

For Arbex, she says her whole approach has changed. She says she feels much more confident now that she knows she can help victims.