Sexual violence takes many forms. These include: rape, sexual assault, unwanted touching, fondling, sexual harassment, threats of violence, pressurised sex, flashing, penetration by objects and childhood sexual abuse. Sexual violence is any kind of unwanted sexual behaviour. It is an abuse of power and a form of control which causes humiliation, pain, fear and intimidation.
Most forms of sexual violence are criminal offences in Scotland, and all of them have a significant and harmful impact which can be just as distressing as rape itself.
Instances of sexual violence occur more commonly than is realised; and as many as 1 in 4 women are estimated to experience sexual violence at some point during their lives.
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 or surprising to you.
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.
What to consider
Are they in immediate danger? If they are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can call 999 (or 112 from a mobile).
Find a safe space. If an incident has just happened try and find somewhere they feel safe. If this isn't possible and they are scared or fearful you can suggest they call University security on 0131 455 6119
Does the survivor have any injuries?
If the survivor has any physical symptoms after an assault you should seek medical help. If they have more than a very minor injury, or were unconscious for even a short time, you should take them to Accident and Emergency.
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. See the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre web site for more information.
Listen to them
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.
(Published on Oct 4, 2015 Based on the Samaritans guidelines for active listening.)
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. Listen and be open to what they are telling you. Try not to ask for a lot of detail, and make it clear that you are ready to listen. Offer practical support, such as directing them to the online Report and Support system, or providing details of specialist support services.
Rape Crisis Scotland can offer support to those who have experienced a recent or attempted rape or sexual assault. Contact them by calling Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline on 08088 010302 (freephone, 6pm – midnight every day), phoning their support line on 0131 556 9437 and leaving a message or by emailing their support service at firstname.lastname@example.org
Archway – Sexual Assault Referral Centre: If they are unsure about whether they want to report to the police but would like to have the option to report in the future they can travel to the Archway Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Glasgow for a forensic medical examination by a specialist female doctor/nurse. They’ll take forensic evidence and check for STIs. Archway is for anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted in the last 7 days aged 13 and over. If they are over the age of 16, you do not need to report to the police unless they want to. They are based at 6 Sandyford Place, Glasgow G3 7NB, telephone: 0141 211 8175.
Reporting to the police. If they are thinking of reporting to the police, ERCC has helpful information and advice on their web site.
Reporting the incident anonymously. You can call crime stoppers at any point on 0800 555 111 or use their online form.
Report and Support Students, staff and visitors 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 trained University/ENSA Adviser. If you choose to talk to an Adviser they will be able to talk through the options and support available to you, in confidence.
Anyone who has experienced sexual violence needs to be listened to and believed, whether they have just been attacked, or are talking about events that happened some time ago, for example, in childhood. You can help in many ways:
- Listen to what s/he has to say in their own time. It might not be easy to start talking about something that has been hidden for a long time. The abuser may have threatened them to stay silent.
- Believe. People rarely lie about rape or sexual abuse. Why would they? It is important to believe what they are saying.
- Respect their feelings and decisions. Crying can be part of the healing process.
- Remember it is not their fault - no-one asks to be abused or deserves it and cannot be blamed for being unable to prevent the abuse.
- Recognise the courage it takes for someone to speak. It takes a great deal to face up to fears and to talk about any experience of sexual violence. It can be important for friends and family members to acknowledge the courage it has taken for someone to speak about what happened.
- Don’t tell them to forget about it. Don't say, “It happened a long time ago, why does it suddenly bother you now?” Healing can take time and some people block or try to forget traumatic events. This is a way of coping with what has happened. Remembering can be triggered by events such as the birth of a baby, a TV programme, marriage, changing job, starting a new relationship and so on
- Don’t ask them why they didn’t fight back. People can freeze when confronted with a terrifying situation.
- Don’t ask why they didn’t say anything sooner. If it happened when they were young they may have tried to tell but been ignored or disbelieved. They may have been threatened or been too frightened to say anything. Most people do try to tell someone at some time.
- Don’t tell them what to do. They need to be in control of the decisions about matters which affect them. You can help them to explore options available.
- Don’t pressure them into doing or talking about things they are not ready to face. When they are ready they will speak.
Seeing someone you care about dealing with a traumatic experience can be distressing. It is important that you get support for yourself. Without such support, it can be really hard for you to be there for your friend or family member. Try asking a trusted friend or family member or contact the Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline or your local rape crisis centre.
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 Wellbeing Service offers confidential help for students and staff can use the University’s Workplace Options service.
Rape Crisis Scotland has leaflets for friends supporting someone who has experienced sexual violence.