If you think someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are lots of ways in which you can help them.
If someone has been sexually assaulted their reactions can vary; they may be afraid, angry or have no outward reaction at all. They might even act in ways that seem unusual to you, even laughing at seemingly inappropriate times.
Disclosures can come in many forms; it could be something said jokingly, a story that someone starts to tell then stops and says it doesn't matter, or it could be a question. You are not expected to be a professional counsellor; however how someone responds to a first disclosure can be really important. It can take time for a person to decide what they want to do and how they want to move forward.
Are they in immediate danger? If they are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can call 999 (or 112 from a mobile). If they are on campus, you should tell Security (01483 68 3333) that the emergency services are on their way and give details of the individual’s location.
Find a safe space: if an incident has just happened, try and find somewhere they feel safe. If they are on campus and this isn't possible, you can suggest they call Security on 01483 68 3333.
What is sexual assault? This section describes the different types of sexual assault that a person could experience.
Sexual assault is a crime of power and control: the most important thing is to respond in a way that maximises their choice and control over what happens next. You can simply ask them what they need or want. They might not make the same decision you would; however, only they can decide what is best for them. You can help them explore options but avoid telling them what they should do.
Listen: just taking the time to listen to someone and talk about what has happened can help. These six active listening tips might help you support them.
Give options: when they have finished talking ask them if they are ok to talk through some possible options and next steps. Remember, it is important that they decide what they want to do.
Security: some members of our Security team are trained to receive disclosures of sexual violence. All Officers can talk through how to make a report and what support is available.
University of Surrey Students’ Union (USSU) can talk students through what options are available and support you through the process. This support includes checking draft complaints and attending any meetings with the University.
Trade unions are organised groups of workers who come together to support each other in the workplace. The University of Surrey recognises three campus trade unions: Unison, UCU and Unite.
Reporting to the police: If you're thinking of reporting to the police, Rape crisis has produced a useful list of things to think about.
Reporting the incident anonymously: you can call Crimestoppers at any point on 0800 555 111 or use their online form.
Report and Support: students and staff can report an incident using the University’s Report and Support system. You can choose to do this anonymously or you can request support from a member of staff. The University takes every report seriously and carefully considers what action to take.
- They might not want to report the assault to the police or the University. There are a lot of reasons why someone may choose not to report sexual violence.
- In most cases of sexual assault, the offender is known to the victim.
- They might be concerned that people won’t believe them or may not identify what occurred as a sexual assault
- They may be concerned who else might be informed.
- They may be afraid of or confused about the criminal justice system or what happens if you report an incident to the University.
- If drugs or alcohol were involved, they may choose not to report because they are worried they will get in trouble as well.
- It is up to them to decide what they want to disclose and to whom. Your support can help them talk through their concerns.
- Let them know that you believe them and support their decisions.
- Remind them that no one, regardless of relationship or status, has the right to hurt them and that no matter what, it is not their fault that this occurred.
- Connect them with resources that can help them understand what happens if you report to the Police and or the University.
Things to avoid
- Just saying "it’s not your fault" (without listening to the survivor's story)
- Using key ‘catch phrases’ or common sayings – e.g. “it will all be better with time"
- Probing for details. Let them tell you what has happened in their own time
- Blaming them – e.g. “what were you wearing?” and “were you drinking?” or “did you text him to come over?”
- Showing disgust or shock, smirking or showing obvious disbelief
- Questioning their story – e.g. "Why didn’t you say straight away? Why are you only coming forward now?"
- Trivialising the experience – “it was only a bit of fumbling”
Rape Crisis provides further information on supporting a survivor.
Mental health and wellbeing
1 in 4 people are affected by a mental health problem in any year and it is estimated that around 1 in 5 people have contemplated suicide or self-harm.
If you are worried or concerned find out more about how you can help them.
Take care of yourself. It’s important that you take care of yourself. If you’ve heard something distressing or if something is troubling you, the University's Centre for Wellbeing offers confidential help and is open to both students and staff.