Dealing with disclosures of sexual assault
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.
- They might not want to report the assault to the police of 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 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 states, 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 them to come over?”
- Showing disgust or shock
- Smirking and showing obvious disbelief
- “Why didn’t you say straight away? What are you only coming forward now?"
- Trivialising the experience – “it was only a bit of fumbling”