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 they in immediate danger? If they are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can call 999.
- Finding a safe space. If possible, try and find somewhere they feel safe. If this isn't possible and you are on campus you can call security on:
- 0208 223 5599 (Docklands)
- 0208 223 4073 (Stratford)
- 0208 223 7888 (USS)
- Sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The most important thing is to respond in a way that maximizes 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.
- What is sexual assault? Familiarise yourself with the definition of sexual assault. You can also read about the truth behind harmful myths relating to sexual violence here.
- 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.
- Take them to security, who have been trained in taking a disclosure of sexual violence. Security can give them a copy of A guide to information, help and support around sexual violence.
- Reporting to the police. If they are thinking of reporting to the police, rape crisis have a guide on the reporting process.
- Reporting the incident anonymously. They 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 UEL Report and Support system.
- University Procedure. If they choose to report a member of staff or a student by naming them in their report, there are procedures which set out the actions the University may take. This may include carrying out conduct investigations.
- 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’s not really a big deal”
- Take care of yourself, you too can access student and/or staff wellbeing services for support
You can find links to UEL and external support services here.