Providing support

Supporting someone who has disclosed sexual harm can have a big impact on their recovery and willingness to access support services. The following steps are designed to equip UniSA students and staff with the skills to respond to disclosures in a compassionate, respectful and helpful manner.  The University has also developed a Guide for Staff that sets out our approach to supporting people who disclose or report sexual harm. 

Your role as a support person is to simply listen and support. Your role is NOT to provide advice, offer solutions or investigate the incident.

Start by finding a safe, quiet and private location to talk. Remain calm and simply listen without judgement. Try not to interrupt or ask questions. Give the person time and space to talk. Silence is ok; don’t rush them.

People subjected to sexual assault often fear that they will not be believed. You can validate their experience with statements like “I’m sorry this happened to you” and “I’m really glad you told me”. Avoid asking too many questions because this can be misinterpreted and cause the person to feel they are not believed. Do not ask any ‘why’ questions such as “why did you drink so much?” or “why did you go with them?” because this implies the person did something wrong. Remember, they are not to blame for what happened to them.

You may feel a need to provide comfort by giving the person a hug or by placing a hand on their shoulder. Always ask if it is okay before touching the person. Unexpected and unwelcome physical contact can be extremely distressing to someone who has recently been sexually assaulted.

If, after listening to the person, you determine that there is an immediate danger from the perpetrator (or others) or an immediate medical or physical emergency:

  • Call 000 and report the incident to emergency services; and/or
  • Call Campus Security on 1800 500 911

It is important that you allow the person to decide how to report an incident and who is informed, but also recognise that you are not responsible for their decisions.  If you feel that you need advice or guidance during business hours, you may contact the Coordinator: SASH Response on: 

Your role as a support person is to provide information to help the person make decisions and then refer them to trained professionals who can provide specialist help. It is really important that the person disclosing has a sense of control over what happens next. You can help by providing information about their support options and offering to make appointments and go with them if you are able to. Try not to make assumptions about what they want to do and do NOT tell them what you think they should do. The choice is entirely up to them. Listen patiently and check by asking: “what would you like to do?” and “how can I best help you?”

There is a range of support services available to students and staff who have experienced sexual harm. Click here for more information.

Reporting an Incident

Unless the person disclosing is under the age of 18 years, the decision to report an incident of sexual harm is entirely up to them. Do not assume that their disclosure to you means they want to make any kind of a report about the sexual harm. Your role is to provide information to help them make decisions and then support those decisions.  It is important to be patient as they may need some time to consider what they would like to do.

There are a number of reporting options available to students and staff who have experienced sexual harm. Click here for more information.

If a UniSA student or staff member aged under 18 years has informed you that they were sexually assaulted you have an obligation to report this to the Child Abuse Report Line. Information about this can be found here.

The person disclosing may decide they do not wish to report the incident or access any of the support services. This decision is completely up to them and should be respected. It can take time for some people to decide what, if any, action they would like to take following a sexual assault and people can change their minds over time too.

Offering support to a survivor of sexual harm can be emotionally distressing and you may find that you need support yourself.  It is recommended that you look after your own mental health and talk to a trained counsellor:

In seeking support for yourself, please ensure you maintain confidentiality. This means speaking to someone who is bound by confidentiality (e.g. a counsellor) or ensuring you do not include any names or details which would identify those involved when speaking to friends or family.

Here are a few ways you might help someone in this situation:

  1. Listen to them and refrain from judgement, commentary or question about the details of what happened.
  2. Provide information about their initial options for seeking support:

The most helpful thing you can do is to keep the conversation firmly focussed on support options and avoid discussing the details of the allegation.