Supporting someone who has been sexually assaulted

If someone discloses a sexual assault or an instance of sexual harassment to you it means they have identified you as someone they feel safe with. Here are some useful tips on supporting the person disclosing as well as the person responding.

There is additional advice for ANU staff that guides them through the process they are required to follow when an ANU student alleges they have been sexually assaulted.

Listen to the person

Speaking about an incident of sexual assault or harassment can make someone feel incredibly vulnerable, it is important to listen patiently and with respect for the person sharing their story.

Believe the person

In a situation where someone is making a disclosure to you, show that you believe what they are telling you. Your role is not to investigate the situation, but rather to ensure that the person feels safe and comfortable.

Let them take their time 

Speaking about an instance of sexual assault and harassment can be very challenging. Let the person take their time and recognise that you don't need to fill all the spaces or silences in the conversation. You don't need to know all of the right things to say, and it can be powerful to just sit with silence as well.

Check the person's safety

Ensure that the person who has made the disclosure to you will be able to be safe once the conversation is over. You might suggest some options to help them to decide how to best manage their physical safety.

Be clear about what you can offer

Recognise your own boundaries around responding to a disclosure of sexual assault or harassment, and be honest and open when you communicate that to the survivor. It can be helpful to know the details of professional counselling services, such as ANU Counselling, or 1800 RESPECT, as an option for referral for further support beyond what you can provide.

Be with the person in the space they need

It can be incredibly challenging for someone to discuss their experiences in this area, so be mindful of allowing people to exist in a space where they feel most comfortable. For some, that might mean going for a walk, or for others it might be sitting in a known safe place. Consider how you can best support the survivor to feel physically comfortable and safe and follow their cues with this.

Give options for them to make decisions

Offer the survivor options for them to decide what their next step will be. Recognise that the survivor may make a different decision than you expect them to, or might choose to do something you disagree with or may decide to do nothing at all. Allow them to make their own decision and support them in the choices they make.

As a responder support is available for you too. Responders are often left with unanswered questions or a desire to make it better for the survivor. This is not always easy to achieve or helpful for the survivor. Responding to a disclosure can be emotionally complex and isolating as people often think talking to someone else about it will breach the person disclosing's confidentiality. Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, ANU Counselling and 1800 RESPECT can offer free and confidential debriefing for you. This can be an important step in keeping you safe following a disclosure.