People often choose someone they trust, like a friend, to first disclose their experience of sexual assault. When someone discloses to you, you might experience shock, sadness, betrayal, guilt, and many other emotions. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say – that’s why we’ve created this guide.
1. What to say
When someone is disclosing, give them time and space to share. It can be easy to rush into offering solutions or judgements — avoid this and focus listening.
“I believe you. This is not your fault…”
Often survivors encounter doubts, judgement and blame. You can counter this by affirming that you believe them and that what happened is not their fault.
“What do you need and want?”
It is important that survivors are allowed to make their own decisions. You may want them to take certain steps; however, what they do next is their choice. Let them express what they want and support them in those choices.
“How are you going?”
This is a way to let someone know that you are there for them. When you check in on someone, they may not want to talk, it is important you respect their wishes and not pressure them to share.
There are various support avenues that you can recommend to someone who has experienced sexual assault and harassment. Everyone has different needs and wants, and the person you support might choose differently from you – remember to respect their agency.
The following supports are free and confidential:
How do I know whether I should go or recommend that someone go to the police?
Seeking support from the police is a choice entirely up to the survivor. Someone can choose to begin a case with the police and stop at any time – it is entirely within the control of the individual.
A person can go to the police at any time to report a crime related to sexual violence. If someone has recently been assaulted (within 5 days) the police will ask them to undertake a forensic examination at a hospital. A forensic examination collects DNA evidence that can help assist in identifying the perpetrator.
If you would like to learn more about contacting the police, you can read more here.
If you have had a sexual violence disclosure reported to you, it is important to remember that your own wellbeing should be a priority. If you feel that hearing a disclosure from another person may be impacting you, it is important to seek professional support.