If you know someone who has been affected by sexual misconduct, it may be hard to know what to do or how to feel. That’s okay. There are lots of ways in which you can help support those affected.
The person’s reactions can vary; they may be afraid or act in ways that seem unusual to you, even laughing at times.
Disclosures (telling someone about an experience) can come in many forms; it could be something said jokingly, it could be posed as a question, it could be said casually as part of a story. No one expects you to be a professional counsellor or therapist; however how someone responds to a first disclosure can be very important.
Whether their experience was recent or a long time ago, there is support available.
It is vital that you listen, believe and support them. Never pressure someone into making choices.
- Are they in immediate danger? If they are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can call 999 off campus, or Campus Security 024 7652 2222 on campus.
- Find a safe space. If an incident has just happened, try and find somewhere they feel safe.
- Sexual Misconduct is an act 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.
- Listening is the most valuable thing you can do at first.
- Find a private place to talk, and tell them you are glad they are telling you.
- Be patient and let them tell you as little or as much as they want at their own pace, without interrupting. Talking about how they feel can be as helpful or more helpful than talking about the details. Take their lead on this.
- Show them that you are actively listening through your body language (e.g. nodding, facing in their direction, sitting down at eye level) and words (e.g. “I hear what you’re saying”).
- Respect their personal space, and do not touch them. Even if you think they want a comforting touch, resist your urge to do so.
- Always follow their lead. You can offer them something to keep them warm, like a blanket or your jacket (shock can involve feeling cold, shivering and shaking).
- Do not take detailed notes of what the person is telling you, or else these may be used in an investigation if the person ever chooses to report the incident. Listening and believing is key at this moment in time.
- Remember your role in this situation. It does not matter if you are someone's best friend, a stranger, a personal tutor, a line manager or colleague; you are neither the police nor an investigating officer. You do not need to interrogate or question someone for details.
- Ensure you are non-judgemental, reassuring and supportive if you ever respond throughout listening. Use phrases such as:
- “I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
- “It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
- “You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
- “I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
- If the person you are supporting is a University of Warwick student or a member of staff, then you should signpost them to Report and Support.
- Report and Support is the University's single online reporting platform for direct, confidential help, and no report triggers a formal complaint.
- A full list of the support and reporting options for those affected by sexual misconduct can be found here.
- You can support someone in reporting the incident to the University, the online form allows you to select if you are helping someone to input a report at this time. It will then guide you through the process step by step.
- If they do not want to discuss their options at this time, that is okay. Let them go at their own pace.
- Signpost them to Report and Support- if they ever choose to look through either their reporting or support options in their own time, they can all be found here.
- Never pressure someone into reporting. Regardless of whether you believe it is the right thing to do. This is about them and their choices, not yours.
- Regardless of what they choose to do, offer your ongoing support.
- Check in periodically: The experience may have happened a long time ago, but that does not mean that the pain goes away. Check in with them, letting them know that you care about their well-being and that you believe them.
- Know your resources. You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health. Become familiar with the Report and Support pages, as you can recommend to those affected.
- In most cases of sexual misconduct, the perpetrator is known to the other party.
- They may not want to report the experience to the police or University. There are a lot of reasons why someone may choose not to report. That is okay.
- They might be concerned that people won’t believe them, or may not identify what occurred as a sexual misconduct.
- They may have fear or confusion about the reporting or support options, making them too intimidating to process at this time. Signposting for later reference, is still support.
- They might be concerned about who else will be informed- that is where the FAQs section is helpful.
- Receiving disclosures and supporting others can be incredibly difficult.
- All the support available to those directly affected by sexual misconduct is also available to supporters. Particularly through the University’s Wellbeing Support Services.
- Do not feel like you are not worthy of support, because the experience did not directly happen to you. You will not be able to support others, without first supporting yourself.
Wellbeing Support Services Self-Help Resources: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/wss/topics/