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Don’t be a bystander. Be a friend…….

Dealing with disclosure

How would you react?

NOTE This blog addresses the reality of sexual violence and a potential for a friend, colleague or family member to disclose abuse to you.

Violence and abuse are something that we all need to be aware of.  It is an issue that does impact negatively on the workplace.

The ugly reality of abuse is that it is happening to people we work with, study with and care about.  It’s happening to our friends and to family members.  World-wide statistics suggest that at some time in their lives between 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 women will be a victim of some men’s violence, including domestic abuse and sexual harassment.  We also know that men are victims of abuse including sexual harassment.  Whether a victim is male or female, all abuse is wrong. 

Put yourself in the shoes of a friend who may have been the victim of any form of abuse.  Ask yourself, what would put me off discussing this with someone else?

One of the major concerns for any victim, is whether they will be believed.  Alcohol may have been a factor.  This is a particular barrier as many victims will feel they will, simply, be judged by others

Alcohol as a contributory factor to a person’s victimisation is a classic myth and one that needs quickly dispelled.  If we as a society maintain a focus on the victim, there is a person missing from the conversation, the perpetrator.  Also, if we blame victims is it any wonder victims blame themselves.  Let’s stop defaulting to blaming anyone other than the perpetrator.

Other barriers to reporting include:

  • What will my friends think?
  • What’s the point? Will my attacker be charged?
  • What will my work/university etc think?
  • What if it’s the boss.

These barriers and many others are at the forefront for any victim.  We as friends and work-colleagues should be mindful of this.  We should never underestimate these barriers and never judge a friend who discloses to us. 

The reality in cases such as sexual violence is that despite the perception that false allegations are high, it is highly likely that something has happened.

If a friend makes such a disclosure the fact that they are speaking to you about an incident should tell you that they want someone to help them.  The following will help you in supporting a friend/colleague at this time.

  1. Don’t Panic –Remember they have chosen you to talk to about this incident.  If a friend discusses an incident that happened in the past, whether at work or at you should never assume that they have told anyone else.  It is likely that you will be the first person they have spoken to about this.  Be that friend and listen. Lean into the issue. Your presence is your greatest super-power, use it.
  • Never feel that you have to go into detail – This is particularly relevant if your friend wants to report this to the police.  If this is the case, you could be used as a witness in the case.  Don’t let this prospect put you off being that supportive friend.  If you don’t go into too much detail, then you cannot be asked probing questions at court.  Ask yourself, do I need to know what exactly happened? or do I just need to focus on the welfare of my friend?  The latter is the best course of action. 
  • Your friend is in control –You should not take it upon yourself and report this to either the police or an employer.  You should never try to influence the decision of your friend.  You may deem it obvious to report this.  Put yourself in their shoes and think of the barriers we discussed above.  In some cases where workplace safety is paramount contact with your HR department could provide valuable advice as well as others who are better trained.
  • Don’t react – Your role is not to fix things, it’s to support your friend and give them an opportunity to explore what they think they need to get them through this.  You are the support your friend needs at this time.  Offer support and use language that shows you care: “I’m so sorry this has happened”, “Is there anyone I can call for you?”, “It’s not your fault”.  Try not to show your anger. Validation is important. Remove blame from the person.
  • Refer – In cases involving sexual violence, there are many Sexual Offences centres and Rape Crisis centres.  It’s likely your employer will have suitable services also.  All have individuals who are able to provide further support and advice to your friend.  Consider asking your friend to speak to someone from these organisations.  Remember let your friend maintain the control in these conversations.
  • Believe them – The reality of these incidents, are that something is likely to have happened. Yes, whilst there are allegations made that are later found to have been fabricated, a very small minority of allegations are false.  How would your friend feel if you used language that inferred you doubted their story?  Be that friend and listen to what is being said.  Never judge your friend.

The above advice has been collected to give you some tools to use should a friend, relative or work-colleague disclose that they have been the victim of any form of abuse including rape, sexual assault or harassment.

Year on year the number of disclosures of these crimes is rising.  We cannot all be experts, but we can educate ourselves on how to respond should someone we care about put their trust in you.

Don’t be a bystander, be a friend

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