Information for Professionals, Friends & Supporters of Survivors
Every person’s reaction to rape and sexual abuse will be different, and there are no rules setting out exactly how to respond when receiving a disclosure. Below are some suggestions that may enable a person to talk about their experience, how they are feeling and to seek further help if appropriate.
Remember, they have chosen to speak to you because they trust you and feel safe with you, so just be yourself; don’t try to be an expert.
When an individual talks of rape or abuse for the first time they may speak in a casual manner and provide very little detail. They are exploring how it feels to talk about their experience and how others will react. To enable the person to continue with the disclosure:
Allow them to feel in control and talk at their own pace
Allow them to openly express their feelings
Avoid pushing for details and asking direct questions
Recognise Harm Done
Rape or sexual abuse is possibly the most degrading act that a person can experience. When receiving a disclosure the listener should accept the impact it has had on all areas of an individual’s life, the time spent coping, and how they feel now. Recognition can be displayed by:
Showing empathy and understanding
The person may experience disbelief and shock about what happened to them. They may also fear that others will not believe what happened. To convey genuine belief:
Accept what happened and the way they feel
Do not dispute what they tell you
Devote your full attention to the individual
Recognise Strength and Courage
Appreciate that the person has shown courage in disclosing the rape, and strength in surviving since the experience.
Recognise that coping strategies, even though they may appear harmful, have helped the individual survive.
Negative judgements may be made about the survivor by themselves and those around them. It is important that these are not reinforced by the person receiving the disclosure. The listener needs to:
Avoid viewing the victim’s character and actions negatively
Avoid judging the perpetrator negatively as they may be known and viewed positively by the victim, which will contradict the victim’s judgement
Recognise they have coped in whatever ways were available to them
Let Them Retain Control
Rape and abuse takes away a person’s control and they are forced to participate in events against their will. It is important that they are given full control over their disclosure and what happens next. This can be done by:
Allowing them to speak at their own pace
Allowing them to make decisions for themselves
Giving them choices, not advice
Be Clear About Boundaries
Do not offer support that you are not qualified or confident to provide
Do not make promises you cannot keep
Respect the individual’s right to confidentiality, but be clear about the limitations, and make it clear when disclosures must be made (e.g. if there are current child protection issues)
It is important that information is provided at the person’s request rather than overwhelming them at the outset. Information that may be helpful includes:
Information about RoSA and the services we provide.
Information on other agencies/services that may be of benefit to them.
Check the individual is all right, but allow them the space and time to heal
Sensitively raise the issue again if you learn of new information or services that may be helpful
Be clear about whether you are able to offer further support yourself
Obtain support for yourself