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Breaking the silence - preventing harassment and sexual misconduct


A guide on what to do and say

If a friend or somebody close to you tells you that they’ve been a victim of sexual violence, it can be a difficult thing to hear. It can be stressful; you might feel that you have to immediately resolve the issue for them or indeed you may have conflicting views if you know the person who’s perpetrated the harassment. But by providing a calm, encouraging space for them to tell their story in their own words, you can really make a difference. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Allow them to say what they need to say in their own time and at their own pace.
  • Believe what they tell you. It is very rare for anyone to lie about an experience of sexual violence. If they think that you disbelieve them, they may never tell anyone again. Wishing something were not true is not the same as it not being true.
  • Tell them it’s not their fault. Nothing they have done or not done has resulted in the experience they have been through.
  • Allow them to say what they need to say in their own time and at their own pace.
  • Remember not to trivialise or minimise what someone is telling you, even if it’s hard to hear.
  • You can’t expect people to react in any one way. Every individual’s experience, and their response to that experience, is unique to them.
  • Help someone to make their own choices, to feel empowered, to be back in control of their own decision making.
  • Let them know that you care, that the experience has not changed who they are or how you feel about them.

Remember that survivors are the experts of their own lives and trust in them to make the right choices and decisions for themselves. And above all, you must remember to take your needs seriously. You are not a miracle worker. If you need to, take a supporter’s break and get some support for yourself.