What’s the Difference?
A disclosure happens when someone shares an experience of sexual violence to someone else in the McMaster community so they can access support, accommodations or information about their options. By disclosing to the SVPRO, those who have experienced sexual violence can learn about reporting options, access counselling support and get support for residence, academic or workplace accommodations.
A report happens when someone wants to make an official complaint to the University, a criminal report (through local police services or campus Security Services) or other reporting options. Someone can choose to pursue one or more reporting options.
A disclosure can be made without making a report. A written statement of complaint to the SVPRO or another intake office on campus (Human Rights & Dispute Resolution, Student Support & Case Management, Employee and Labour Relations or the Faculty of Health Sciences Professionalism Office) is needed to file a report.
Disclosing experiences of sexual violence can be difficult, and many people face barriers in doing so. Some examples of barriers to disclosing include:1,2,3
- Fear of being victim-blamed
- Fear of retaliation by perpetrator
- Fear of links to their student record
- Concerns around perpetrator being prosecuted if they are a family member or friend and/or if the perpetrator is a person of colour how they will be treated by the justice system
- Concerns around career implications
- Concerns around immigration status (for international students)
- Fear of being reprimanded for breaking rules while the incident happened (such as drinking underage or breaking physical distancing guidelines)
- Fear of being labelled “gay” or being perceived as less masculine (for men)
- Fear of disclosure not being kept confidential
- Negative experiences from previous disclosures
- Sense of shame, guilt or embarrassment
- Distrust of police and justice systems
Making the decision to disclose is brave. The way that disclosure is received has a large impact on the person’s well-being.
A positive disclosure experience takes place when the support person Recognizes that all forms of sexual violence can be traumatic, Responds with validation and Refers the person disclosing to services like SVPRO for further support. Positive disclosure experiences are associated with positive life changes, reduced traumatic symptoms and depression, improved school/work functioning and improved immune system functioning.4
A negative disclosure experience takes place when the support person minimizes the experience of sexual violence, questions its validity, asks “why” questions and fails to refer the person disclosing to support services. Negative disclosure experiences are associated with increased traumatic symptoms, leads to regret and makes the person not want to disclose to others, meaning that they do not get the support they need.4
Confidentiality is a crucial consideration in creating an environment where people feel able to disclose their experiences of sexual violence. Establishing trust and connection that has been broken by trauma plays an important role in a person’s recovery process.5
For those disclosing sexual violence, know that you have a right to privacy. All personal information and records handled by the University are done so in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Personal Health Information Protection Act.
For those receiving a disclosure of sexual violence, don’t pressure the person into making the decision to report and don’t share the disclosure with anyone else unless the limits to confidentiality are met (see below) or if sharing the disclosure to a supervisor is part of your position (e.g., Archway mentors). Rather, make a warm referral to services like the SVPRO so the person knows they have options for support.
Limits to Confidentiality
To ensure the safety of all McMaster community members, all McMaster community members (including staff, faculty and students) are required to bring disclosures that meet any of the following limits to Hagar, the SVPRO Consultant.
- If there is risk of harm to self, others or the broader community (e.g., suicidality)
- If there is an obligation by law (when the person disclosing is under 16 years of age)
- If there is an obligation by a regulatory body (when the accused is part of a profession overseen by a licensing body, like a social worker, nurse or physician)
1Sable, M. R., Danis, F., Mauzy, D. L., & Gallagher, S. K. (2006). Barriers to reporting sexual assault for women and men: Perspectives of college students. Journal of American College Health, 55(3), 157-162. http://www.middlebury.edu/media/view/240971/authentic/sable_article.pdf
2Easton, S. D., Saltzman, L. Y., & Willis, D. (2014, January). “Would you tell under circumstances like that?”: Barriers to disclosure of child sexual abuse for men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 15(4), 460-429. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034223
3Cotter, A. & Savage, L. (2019, December 5). Gender-based violence and unwanted sexual behaviour in Canada, 2018: Intiail findings from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2019001/article/00017-eng.htm
4Jacques-Tiura, A. J., Tkatch, R., Abbey, A., & Wegner, R. (2010). Disclosure of sexual assault: characteristics and implications for posttraumatic stress symptoms among African American and caucasian survivors. Journal of trauma & dissociation : the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD), 11(2), 174–192. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299730903502938
5Zannoni, J. E. (2007). Strengthening Sexual Asault Victim’s Right to Privacy. Online Guides from OVC. https://ovc.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh226/files/publications/infores/VictimsRightToPrivacy/pfv.html