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Information for Supporters of Survivors

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.

Listen

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

Being attentive

Convey Belief

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.

 Be Non-Judgemental

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)

Provide Information

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.

Afterwards

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


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