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For someone who has experienced sexual violence, revisiting traumatic experiences by talking about them can stir up tricky emotions. Often they’re scared that they’ll be blamed or shamed, or they feel overwhelmed by talking about what has happened.

If someone decides to tell you about their experience, it’s so important for you to know that this step is a big deal. How you react can affect them in complex ways—make sure your response helps rather than hurts.


What to do:

  • Believe them

  • Remind them that no matter what happened, it’s not their fault

  • Help them figure out which resources are available

  • Respect their right to choose the services that are right for them

  • Recognize that disclosing can be traumatic but avoid making assumptions about what they are feeling

  • Let them take the lead on which details they want to share or not share with you

  • Make every effort to respect confidentiality and anonymity—let them know that they’re in a safe space!

  • Be clear about any possible limitations to confidentiality (for instance,  if the assault involved a child, you’re obligated to report this to the police)

  • Take care of yourself: hearing a disclosure of sexual violence may be difficult for you.Support is available for you as well


What not to do:

  • Ask what they were wearing

  • Ask why they put themselves in that situation

  • Grill them about why they were drinking or how much they drank

  • Suggest they should question their choices (like flirting with them at the beginning of the night)

  • Make them feel like their past hookups affected what happened

  • Pressure them to report to the police

  • Press for details

  • Doubt them

  • Blame them

  • Tell other people without the survivor’s permission


Sometimes disclosures take time.

Some people who have experienced sexual violence aren’t always sure what sexual violence looks like.


Sometimes they may feel that something happened that wasn’t ‘right’ but they don’t realize that a line was crossed. Or they don’t know how to articulate what wasn’t ‘right’ about their experience, especially when it involves someone they know.


Some people need time to process what has happened to them. They may need time to accept that they were a victim of sexual violence. They need to consider what it would be like to tell someone, and how to move forward.


Being patient with someone who wants to disclose is important. They may want to share only pieces of their story and need time to decide what those pieces will be. Try to avoid filling up silent space with questions or comparisons to your own experiences.



















Why is this whole thing such a secret??!

People share their experiences for a reason, and they likely have reasons for not wanting to share them as well.


For example:


  • Being worried about not being believed

  • Being scared they will be blamed

  • Feeling ashamed and/or guilty about what happened

  • Fearing the consequences of such things as underage drinking, or using illegal drugs

  • Fearing retaliation by the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s friends

  • Feeling peer pressure to not get the perpetrator in trouble

  • Feeling a loss of control over their experiences


Many people choose to never disclose their experiences with sexual violence to anyone. If someone is comfortable enough to tell you, do your best to support them and respect their confidentiality.


I cannot believe that they don't want to report what happened?!!!

Many people choose not to report their experience of sexual violence to police or with campus security. Concerns about the formal reporting process can discourage people from coming forward.


Some survivors of sexual assault fear:


  • The sharing of their private information

  • Opening up their personal lives to public judgment and scrutiny

  • Possible physical examinations and questions they may face

  • Losing control of what happens to them, such as being pressured to press charges

  • Their parent(s) or others in their community finding out

  • Having to change their living arrangements


Other reasons they may not want to report include:


  • Believing that nothing will happen to the perpetrator—‘what's the point?’

  • Fear of police or police presence within their community

  • Believing/understanding they may be stereotyped or discriminated against

  • Being unsure about how the process of reporting work


Experiencing sexual violence can be traumatic and confusing. You can’t expect people who have experienced violence to behave in ways that you think are normal. For instance, many people assume a victim would never speak to the person who assaulted them again, but situations and relationships are often a lot more complicated.


Sometimes people may:


  • Try to convince themselves that nothing ever happened

  • Want to hide that something happened between them and the perpetrator

  • Be in a situation in which the person who hurt them could be someone they love


These feelings are valid!


Talking about what happened, deciding whether to disclose can be difficult for someone who has experienced sexual violence.  BUT there are so many incredible individuals, groups and organizations available to support you.


Victim blaming is a pervasive response to disclosures of sexual violence, and is a response that is informed by rape myths and commonly held misogynistic views regarding the sexuality of women, trans, 2-spirit, and gender non-conforming people. Wikipedia defines “victim blaming” as: “Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them.” Here are some very basic videos about victim-blaming and sexual violence, and tactics we can all employ in order to destabilize this unsettlingly common response to disclosure.


#WeBelieveSurvivors, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.

Content warning: this video discusses sexual assault & victim blaming

Content warning: this video discusses sexual assault, violent death/murder & victim blaming

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