If you know someone who has been affected by sexual misconduct and assault it is perfectly normal to not know what to do to support them or how to feel. This page will provide you with some suggestions on how you can help support those affected.
You should know that the reactions of the person affected can vary; everyone reacts in their own way. They may be afraid or act in ways that seem unusual to you. Telling someone about an experience can come in many forms. People might laugh it off and disclose the incident to you in form of a joke, they might ask a question, or share it casually as part of a story. No one expects you to be a professional counsellor or therapist; however how someone responds to a first disclosure can be very important.
It is vital that you think, listen, believe and support them. But you should never pressure someone into making any choices they are not comfortable with.
- Are they in immediate danger? If they are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can contact the emergency services on 999 (or 112 from a mobile phone). Report and Support is not an emergency reporting tool.
- Find a safe space. If an incident has just happened, try and find somewhere you both feel safe. If you need to find a safe space, see the contact details and other information about Health and Emergency services near you.
- You may find it useful to think about what is meant by sexual misconduct and assault, by visiting our What is Sexual Misconduct and Assault? where you will find a non-exhaustive list with examples of these behaviours.
- Sexual violence often leaves survivors feeling like they lost control and power. Resist the temptation to 'take over', for example by making arrangements that you think are best. Instead, support them in making their own decisions. Let them take the lead. Be patient and let them tell you as little or as much as they want at their own pace, without interrupting. Talking about how they feel can be as helpful or more helpful than talking about the details.
- Listening is the most valuable thing you can do at first. Listen to what they have to say, even if it's difficult for you to hear. Although you might have lots of questions, avoid interrupting.
- Find a private place to talk and reassure them you are glad they are telling you.
- Trust is often difficult for survivors. If someone tells you what has happened to them, be patient and don't push for them to tell you anything. Reassure them, respect their wishes and be patient.
- Body language is important. Show them that you are actively listening through your body language (e.g., nodding, facing in their direction, sitting down at eye level) and words (e.g., “I hear what you’re saying”).
- Respect their personal space, and do not touch them. Even if you think they want a comforting touch, resist your urge to do so.
- You can offer them something to keep them warm, like a blanket or your jacket (shock can involve feeling cold, shivering and shaking). But respect their wishes if they say no.
- Do not take detailed notes of what the person is telling you as these may be used in an investigation if they ever choose to report the incident.
- Remember your role in this situation. It does not matter if you are someone's best friend, a stranger, or a teacher; you are neither the police nor an investigating officer. That need not be negative, you can still help them, but you should not interrogate or question them for details.
- People rarely lie about sexual abuse or rape, but as there are the many myths about people who ‘ask for it’ or provoke assault, a victim/survivor may already be feeling partly responsible for what has happened or that what happened is minor. It is important that they know you do not treat their disclosure with disbelief.
- In your communications throughout the disclosure try to be non-judgemental, reassuring and supportive. Depending on each situation, you can use phrases such as:
“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
"You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened.”
- Report and Support: If the person you are supporting is a student at the University of Kent student, then you should signpost them to Report and Support. Tell them that if they ever decide to look through their options regarding reporting or getting support, they can all be found here. Report and Support is the University's online reporting tool that provides direct, confidential help, whilst not triggering a formal complaint. You might wish to also tell them this information. No formal investigation will be triggered without their consent, but they can still access confidential support.
- A full list of the support and reporting options for those affected by sexual misconduct and assault can be found here.
- You can support someone in reporting the incident to the University. We have put together a video that explains the process of reporting through Report and Support. You can share it with them or offer to help them in submitting the report.
- No matter what you do, do not pressure them into reporting. If they do not want to discuss their options at this time, that is okay. Allow them to go at their own pace.
- Even if they don’t choose to report the incident or seek external support, reassure them that they have your ongoing support
- Check in periodically. The experience may have happened a long time ago, but that does not mean that the pain goes away. Check in with them, letting them know that you care about their wellbeing and that you believe them.
- Know your limits. Know your resources. You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s wellbeing. Take the time to become familiar with the Report and Support pages, as you can recommend the resources we outline on there to those affected.
- They may not want to report the experience to the police or University. There are a lot of reasons why someone may choose not to report. That is okay.
- They may fear or be confused about their options when it comes to reporting or getting support; this might make these decisions too intimidating to process at this time. By signposting their options for later reference, you are still providing valuable support.
- They might be concerned about who else will be informed of the incident - that is where the FAQs section is helpful.
- Receiving disclosures and supporting others can be incredibly difficult. All the support available to those directly affected by harassment is also available to supporters.
- You should not feel like you are not worthy of support, because the experience did not directly happen to you. You will not be able to support others, without first supporting yourself.
Things you should do
- Do remain calm and listen to them and their needs at this time, and avoid interrupting with questions.
- Do believe them and thank them for telling you this information.
- Do feel comfortable in politely stopping them and letting them know that there are specialist staff who can provide more detailed signposting.
- Do remember that is not their fault, and let them know that so that they don’t feel that way
- Do let them stay in control and respect their decisions.
- Do remember that your own wellbeing is also very important. If you have been impacted by what you have heard or want to talk through what advice you have given, please contact us at KentSSW@kent.ac.uk (Canterbury Campus) or MedwaySSW@kent.ac.uk (Medway Campus).
Things you should not do
- Do not call the police without their explicit consent (unless in a situation where there is an immediate threat to life).
- Do not offer any food or drink before a conversation with specialist staff has taken place. This is because of implications that this may have upon DNA evidence that may become part of a criminal investigation.
- Do not give any advice or support to them that you do not feel confident in providing.
- Do not overreact or ask any ‘why’ questions. It is not your job to investigate or counsel.
- Do not fill in gaps or assume any parts of their report. Only detail provided by them should be recorded.
- Do not ask why they didn’t say or do anything sooner.
- Do not judge anything they did before the sexual violence or abuse.
- Do not ask them why they didn’t try to run away or fight back.
- Do not tell anyone without their permission.