If you think someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are lots of ways in which you can help them.
If someone has been sexually assaulted their reactions can vary; they may be afraid, angry or have no outward reaction at all. They might even act in ways that seem unusual to you, even laughing at seemingly inappropriate times.
Disclosures can come in many forms; it could be something said jokingly, a story that someone starts to tell then stops and says it doesn't matter, or it could be a question. You are not expected to be a professional counsellor; however how someone responds to a first disclosure can be really important. It can take time for a person to decide what they want to do and how they want to move forward.
- Are you in immediate danger? If you are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can call 999 (or 112 from a mobile). You can call 101 to report non-emergency crime in the UK. For example, if there has been prolonged bullying or a threat which does not present immediate danger. Alternatively, you can contact your local police.
- Find a safe space. If an incident has just happened try and find somewhere you feel safe. If this isn't possible and you are scared or fearful you should call the emergency services on 999.
- Listen. Just taking the time to listen to someone and talk about what has happened can help. These six active listening tips might help you support them. Published on Oct 4, 2015 Based on the Samaritans guidelines for active listening.
- Give options. When they have finished talking ask them if they are ok to talk through some possible options and next steps. Remember, it is important that they decide what they want to do.
- Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs): You can find your local rape crisis centre here. ISVAs are trained to look after the needs of a survivor of rape or sexual violence to ensure they receive the best possible care and understanding. Contact them and ask to speak to an advisor in confidence. ISVAs are there to provide information to ensure an individual can make a decision that is right for them.
- Student Minds can help whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university, support for a friend or loved one, or for services that might be available to you as a student.
- ULaw staff and students can access Togetherall. The service has an active forum with round-the-clock support from trained professionals. You can talk anonymously to other members and take part in group or 1-to-1 therapy with therapists.
- Reporting to the police. If you're thinking of reporting to the police, rape crisis has produced a useful list of things to think about.
- Reporting the incident anonymously. You can call crime stoppers at any point on 0800 555 111 or use their online form.
- Report and Support:Students and staff can report an incident using the University’s Report and Support system. You can choose to do this anonymously or you can request support from an advisor. If you choose to talk to an advisor they will be able to talk through the options and support available to you, in confidence.
- Find out more about the different types of sexual assault here.
- They might not want to report the assault to the police or the University. There are a lot of reasons why someone may choose not to report sexual violence.
- In most cases of sexual assault, the offender is known to the victim.
- They might be concerned that people won’t believe them or may not identify what occurred as a sexual assault
- 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 the survivor's story)
- 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 him 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”
- Rape Crisis provides further information on supporting a survivor.
- Victim Support
- Student Minds
- the University's Counselling Service offers confidential help.
- The University of Law Students' Union.
- Student Information: Your campus Student Information Team will be able book a registered taxi to ensure that students can get home safely – i.e if they don't have any cash, they can pay the fare the next day.
Sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The most important thing is to respond in a way that maximises their choice and control 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.