If you think someone you know has experienced sexual misconduct, there are lots of ways in which you can help them.
Understand behaviour and disclosure
If someone has experienced sexual misconduct, particularly a sexual assault, 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, such as 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’re not expected to be a professional counsellor, but how you respond can be really important. It can take time for the person to decide what they want to do and how they want to move forward.
- If they’re in immediate danger, call 999 (or 112 from a mobile).
- If an incident has just happened, try and help them find somewhere they feel safe.
- It might be useful to think about what sexual misconduct is and how some of the behaviours are described.
- Look at the information about support on this page that you can share with them
- SARSAS and The Bridge offer support to the family and friends of survivors.
Just taking the time to listen to someone and talk about what has happened can help. These active listening tips might help you support them. Based on the Samaritans guidelines for active listening, SpunOut.ie has a useful blog post on how to actively listen.
- Ask them how you might be able to help.
- When they’ve finished talking, ask them if they’re okay to talk through some possible options for support or how they might report their experience.
- Help them to report if that is what they want, but remind them that they don’t have a responsibility to do so. It’s up to them who they tell.
- Show 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’s not their fault that this happened.
- Show them resources to help them understand what happens if they report to the police and or the University.
Things to avoid saying or doing
- "It’s not your fault" (without listening to their story).
- Using common sayings like “it will all be better with time".
- Probing for details – let them tell you what has happened in their own time.
- Blaming them – eg “What were you wearing?”, “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”.
Reasons for not reporting
The victim might not want to report the sexual misconduct to the police or the University because:
- they may know the offender
- they think people won’t believe them
- they don’t identify what happened as a sexual assault
- they worry about who might find out
- they’re worried about the criminal justice system or reporting it to the University
- drugs or alcohol were involved, and they’re worried they’ll get in trouble.
Take care of yourself
It’s important that you take care of yourself. If you’ve heard something distressing or if something is troubling you, confidential help is available.