Supporting a friend: Responding to disclosures of sexual and gendered violence

How we can support survivors of sexual violence?

Research (EG here (opens in a new window) indicates a person’s first experience in sharing their sexual offence story influences their healing journey; this is relevant (opens in a new window) to university life.

A trauma-informed (opens in a new window) approach helps survivors regain control and normalise their experiences.

This can be summed up by the phrase SAFELY LISTEN THEN REFER.

  • SAFELY. Establish safety.  
    • This might mean seeking contacting NSW Police or Campus Safety and Security, moving to a public place or simply staying together.
    • Safety also means self-care. Consider what that means for you as a responder.
  • LISTEN without judgement, questions or unrealistic promises.
  • THEN
    • Assist the survivor with the next stage of their healing journey by waiting till they are ready to ask for help or advice.
  • REFER This might mean contacting Support Services (opens in a new window) together, offering to check in at a later time, exploring websites together or making a joint report.
    • Many services, such as ambulances, encourage supporter people to accompany the survivor. It's perfectly OK to talk through next steps with a support service. It IS confusing, and we all have the right to feel safe and ask for help.
    • Explore reporting. Sexual assault is a serious crime and therefore a police matter. NSW Police employ trained sexual assault personnel to respond to sexual violence.
    • For less urgent and past offences, Western's sexual offences reporting portal (opens in a new window) encourages survivors to tell their story in their own way. Portal reports can also be made by witnesses, support people and anonymously.
    • See the Support and Report options at the top of the page.


This is heard as 

I am sorry for what has happened.

I believe you.

What happened is a crime.

This is not your fault.

I will do what I can to help.

You are not alone.

Download these simple guidelines here (opens in a new window).

Here (opens in a new window) is an Australian workplace practice guide for responding to disclosures, with sentence starters and other useful information. For example, it's OK to say, "I don't know what to say...". Responders listen, they don't solve.

The evidence

Research indicates that person's early disclosure experiences may affect their healing journey. Specifically, a positive disclosure experience may assist in survivors understand that while something happened to them, it does not define them. For more, see here (opens in a new window).

A community approach

Western has many students and staff trained in responding with care what when someone tells shares their sexual violence story.


We provide training to anyone at Western. Express interest by emailing the team.