Supporting somebody who has experienced sexual misconduct can be daunting, especially when it is someone you know, and you are worried about saying or doing "the wrong thing." You don't have to be an expert to support someone but there are some simple things you can do that will help.
Most people will usually describe what has or is happening to them and how it's making them feel. However, they may not be able to clearly define their experience. Understanding the behaviours associated with sexual misconduct is a good place to start if you want to support them. Find out more here: What is sexual misconduct?
What should I do?
- Think: Are they in immediate danger? If they are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can call 999 (or 112 from a mobile).
- Find a safe space: If an incident has just happened, try and find somewhere they can feel safe. If this isn't possible and they are scared or fearful, you can call security on
The Safezone personal safety app is free to download, and use, and is the quickest way to receive emergency assistance whilst on campus: https://www.safezoneapp.com/how-it-works/
- Listen: If someone discloses an experience of sexual misconduct, just listen to what they tell you. Compassion, empathy and no judgment, can be incredibly helpful. Just taking the time to listen to someone and talk about what has happened can help.
- Believe: Rather than asking a lot of questions, just let them know that you believe them and will support them as best as you can. Try not to skip ahead to what to do practically without first validating what you have heard and listening to what they have to say.
- Reassure: Remind them that no one, regardless of relationship or status, has the right to hurt them and that no matter what, it is not their fault that this occurred.
- Give Options: Somebody who has experienced sexual misconduct may feel they have had power and control taken away from them. This means the most important thing is to respond in a way that increases their choice over what happens next. You can simply ask them what they need or want. They might not make the same decision you would; however, only they can decide what is best for them. You can help them explore options but avoid telling them what they should do. Find more information here: What support is available if I have experienced sexual misconduct?
- Respect: They might not want to report the incident to the police or the University. There are a lot of reasons why someone may choose not to report, only they can decide what is best for them.
- Take care of yourself: It’s important that you take care of yourself. It is not easy to support someone who has experienced any form of harassment. If you’ve heard something distressing or if something is troubling you, information on support services is available here. If you feel you need to talk to someone immediately you can contact Shout, a free 24/7 text service for anyone struggling to cope. TEXT Shout to 85258.
- They might not want to report the incident to the police or the University. There are a lot of reasons why someone may choose not to report sexual violence/abuse.
- In most cases of sexual misconduct, the perpetrator is known to the victim.
- They might be concerned that people won’t believe them or may not identify what occurred as sexual misconduct.
- They may be concerned who else might be informed.
- They may have fear of or confusion about the criminal justice system or what happens if you report it to the University.
- If drugs or alcohol were involved, they may choose not to report because they are worried, they will get in trouble as well.
- It is up to them to decide what they want to disclose and to whom. Your support can help them talk through their concerns.
- Let them know that you believe them and support their decisions.
- Remind them that no one, regardless of relationship or status, has the right to hurt them and that no matter what, it is not their fault that this occurred.
- Connect them with resources that can help them understand what happens if you report to the police and or the University.
Things to avoid
- Just saying "it’s not your fault" (without listening to what the person has to say).
- Using key ‘catch phrases’ or common sayings – e.g. “it will all be better with time".
- Probing for details. Let them tell you what has happened in their own time.
- Blaming them – e.g. “what were you wearing?” and “were you drinking?” or “did you text them to come over?”.
- Showing disgust or shock.
- Smirking and showing obvious disbelief.
- "Why didn’t you say straight away? Why are you only coming forward now?".
- Trivialising the experience – “it was only a bit of fumbling”.