Supporting someone experiencing sexual violence
- There is no right or wrong way for someone to react to an experience of sexual violence.
- Responding well when someone shares their experience with you can make a big difference to their recovery.
- You can support them by believing them, being a good listener, and never blaming them for what has happened.
- Supporting someone who has been through a traumatic experience can be upsetting. You can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or by online chat if you need support for yourself.
How do I support someone?
When someone experiences sexual violence, the people they choose to talk to about it play an important role. Having a supportive family member, friend or co-worker can make a big difference.
It can be hard to know how to respond and you may be worried about doing the wrong thing. There are some simple things you can do and the following information will help you respond.
If you are unsure about the best way to support someone, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or by online chat. You can also visit our Service directory to find local sexual assault support services.
When someone tells you they have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence you should believe them. It’s normal to want to ask lots of questions, but this can make the other person feel uncomfortable. It may also make them feel that they are not believed. Before asking, listen.
Some people want to talk about what happened to them straight away and some people do not. It may take years for someone to disclose an act of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence. Listen without interrupting or talking too much, and don’t judge when they are ready to talk.
A person who has experienced sexual violence is never to blame for what happened. It doesn’t matter what a person was wearing or if they were drunk or on drugs, sexual violence is never okay. Someone's age, cultural background or relationship to the person or people who hurt them are never excuses for sexual violence.
Ask before you touch
After experiencing sexual violence some people do not want to be touched. As a support person, you may want to offer comfort by putting your arm around them or giving them a hug. It is important to ask first. Physical touching without seeking the person’s permission may bring back bad memories from the assault.
Help explore options
It's important that someone who has been sexually assaulted has as much control as possible over what they do next. You can help by finding out about support services and how to use them.
After an assault it can be difficult to think about these things straight away. Your support with finding and contacting services can be a good place to start if this is something they want to do.
Get help for yourself if you need it
It’s normal to feel upset when a person close to you goes through something violent and traumatic. Don't ignore how you are feeling, ask for help when you need it. As a support person, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat. To find a specialist sexual assault service in your area you can search our Service directory.
It’s normal to want to ask lots of questions, but this can make the other person feel uncomfortable. It may also make them feel that they are not believed. Before asking, listen.
Reporting to the police
It can be a hard choice for a person who has experienced sexual violence to decide whether to report it to the police.
People can have lots of reasons why they want to report but can also be very worried about it. A person who has experienced sexual assault may decide not to report to police, or not to have a medical or examination.
This is their choice and must be respected.
If the person you are supporting does want to make a report, it can be helpful to find someone, such as a sexual assault service, who knows how the system works. This gives the person who has experienced the assault more control and choice.
Legal language can be confusing, always ask questions if there is something you don’t understand.
A sexual assault service can help with information on reporting the assault and the law in your state or territory. You can find a sexual assault service in your area by searching our Service directory.
When must I report the sexual assault of a child?
There are some circumstances when the law says you must report sexual abuse that you become aware of. This is called mandatory reporting and it is important to be aware of your responsibilities in this area.
In every state and territory, there are laws about reporting sexual abuse, and each state and territory is different.
In Victoria and the Northern Territory any adult is required to report sexual abuse of a person up to the age of 18. For more information on mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect (including sexual abuse) see the Australian Institute of Family Studies Mandatory Reporting Resource Sheet.
Some states also have mandatory reporting laws for sexual abuse that takes place in residential services, such as
- health facilities
- psychiatric hospitals
- aged care residential homes
- other government-run facilities.
The laws in these states mean even if the person who has experienced the abuse is an adult, you must still report it. In some cases, having a reasonable suspicion that sexual abuse has or may take place is enough to require you to report it.
To clearly understand your responsibilities when it comes to mandatory reporting it is best to get personal advice. Search our Service directory for a legal service in your state or territory that can provide free advice on your mandatory reporting requirements.
How to support a friend who has been sexually assaulted
One in five women in Australia over the age of 15 experience sexual assault. This video offers some ideas and options for supporting a friend who has been sexually assaulted. While the scenario focuses on a situation with a friend, the techniques apply equally to family members.