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Start By Believing FAQs

How we respond to sexual assault disclosures affect everyone. Other victims of sexual violence, and even future victims, are watching to see how someone is treated when they disclose a sexual assault. A negative response – disbelief, blaming, questioning, minimizing – can worsen the trauma and make it less likely that victims will rept to police or seek confidential services they need. This fosters an environment where perpetrators are not held accountable. Some research indicates perpetrators will sexually assault several people over their lifetimes. When we keep victims silent, we create future victims and perpetuate the cycle of violence. 

Start by Believing is about supporting victims through their struggle. It is not about skipping due process or assuming a suspect is guilty. It’s about believing that a victim has been through a traumatic experience and offering the resources they need to work through it and heal. It is up to the system – judicial or Title IX policy process – to do the rest.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if someone discloses a sexual assault to me?

If someone discloses to you:

  • Listen with empathy and without judgement. Let them tell you as much or as little as they want.
  • Ask “How can I help you?”
  • Help identify resources for victims of sexual violence, but it is up to them which resources they want to use. 
  • Avoid “why” questions: these can sound accusatory and make survivors blame themselves.

Remember:

  • Who to tell and when to tell them is up to the survivor. Victims of sexual assault often feel disempowered. Empowering them to make decisions about reporting is part of healing.

What to say:

  • “I’m sorry this happened to you, and I’m here for you.”
  • “You can tell me as much or as little as you want.”
  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “I’m glad you told me. What can I do to support you?”
  • “Do you want to contact an advocate or report it to anyone? I can go to the hospital or police with you.”

Who should Start by Belieiving?

Everyone. Even if you may not be aware of it, you likely know someone who has experienced sexual violence. We are talking to everyone across our whole community. Victims can be anyone, any gender, from all walks of life, and every culture.

USU’s 2017 campus climate survey on nonconsensual sexual contact tells us that 63 percent of those who said they had experienced sexual assault told a roommate or friend. That gives friends and roommates an enormous opportunity to have a positive impact in the lives of victims and in our community.

Why do we need a campaign specifically for sexual assault victims?

There is a long history of victims of sexual assault and rape being blamed for their own experience or “asking for it.” Though victim-blaming is a knee-jerk human reaction when bad things happen, it is particularly pronounced and damaging when it comes to sexual violence. Decades of research document that disclosures of sexual violence have often elicited responses of doubt and blame, rather than compassion and support. This has, in effect, silenced victims and continued a cycle of violence. Start by Believing is about breaking that cycle.

What does victim-blaming sound like?

We’ve all heard statements that blame victims. Some are more subtle, but they still do a lot of damage.

“She should have known better.”
“What did he expect?”
“Did you see what she was wearing?”
“She shouldn’t have gotten so wasted.”
“Why didn’t she fight back?”
“Guys always want it.”
“Why didn’t she just leave?”
“She was asking for it.”
“But he’s (or she’s) such a good person.”

If police "start by believing," then what about due process?

When any crime is reported, USU Police Department starts by believing victims. With Start by Believing, sexual assault reports always have merit unless proven otherwise, and all reports are given a thorough and fair investigation.

“Start by Believing” does not mean we forget about due process, it means we recognize and confront our own biases when they cause us to doubt. These biases may include our beliefs about what a rape really looks like – violent, by a stranger – or what a victim looks like – innocent, female. Our biases could include beliefs about spousal duty, morality, modesty or sexual orientation. They could also include our thoughts about the accused and their place in society. In the past, these biases worked against victims, making it even more difficult from them to report.

Victims of sexual assault experience a unique kind of trauma, and USU Police officers encourage them to call a victim advocate to help them through the process of healing, whether or not they seek justice. The Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information Office (SAAVI) at USU or CAPSA, a non-profit domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape recovery center serving Cache County and the Bear Lake area are among local resources available for victims.

Learn more about USU Police’s sexual assault response commitment.

What about false allegations?

The term “false allegations” means a person reports a crime they know did not happen as they say it did. Though we know there are false reports of sexual violence, just like false reports about other crimes, research shows that these are rare. Most research puts false allegations – where the person reporting knowingly files a false report – between two and eight percent of cases. When police start by believing and thoroughly investigate, false allegations very rarely result in an arrest. Just as with other crimes, the small number of false allegations cannot overshadow our efforts to believe reports of sexual violence and investigate them.

Why do many victims not report or report years later?

We know that victims of sexual violence experience a unique kind of trauma. It is intensely personal, and many victims fear the response of the community or police. They have seen people turn against victims in the past, whether in nationally prominent cases or local ones. Even when evidence is preserved, the case is prosecuted, and a perpetrator is convicted, it is an emotionally draining process. Because of that, we sometimes see victims report later when they have healed somewhat and feel ready to face this challenge.

Victims may not realize that there are victim advocates to help them, or that they can report immediately and later decide if they want to pursue an investigation. We encourage victims of sexual assault and rape to report as soon as possible in order to collect and preserve evidence so they have the option to come back and pursue it later.

We have reports of sexual assault where the victim is often unsure about pursuing an investigation. Even when a victim decides not to work with police, this isn’t interpreted as a false allegation; it often means they are just not ready at that time.

For these reasons, a community can have a huge positive impact on a victim. By supporting and believing survivors of sexual assault, we can provide them with the strength they need to seek justice.

Does USU's Title IX office "start by believing?"

Our Title IX office is obligated to remain impartial in coming to a finding. The office treats all parties respectfully, and that means they steer clear of victim-blaming and disbelief. Whether or not a student chooses to file a formal complaint about a sexual misconduct policy violation and pursue an investigation, the Title IX office provides the accommodations needed to help a victim stay in college.

If a student chooses to file a formal complaint, USU presumes the complaint has merit and investigates it. They then use the evidence gathered to determine a finding based on a preponderance of evidence standard, meaning that more than 50 percent of the evidence points to either a policy violation or not. Even when there is not enough evidence to show a policy violation occurred, the Title IX office does not conclude the victim’s story is untrue, but that there was just not enough evidence available to show a policy violation occurred.  

Just like in reporting to police, filing a formal complaint with Title IX can be difficult for victims, and we encourage anyone reporting sexual misconduct to talk to a victim advocate from SAAVI or CAPSA to help and support them on this path.

Learn more about reporting to Title IX.