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

How we can support survivors of sexual violence?

Research (for example here (opens in a new window) indicates a person’s first experience in sharing their sexual offence story influences their healing journey This is directly relevant (opens in a new window) in a university context.

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

  • Assure 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 - so over time, consider what that means for you, as a responder.
  • Listen patiently with an open mind - without judgement, questions or unrealistic promises.
  • Assist the survivor with the next stage of their healing journey. 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.

Some key talking points:


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.

First Responders

Our University community has a network of volunteers (opens in a new window) who are trained in supporting survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

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).

To express interest in joining our First Responder network, contact us (opens in a new window).


Currently, we are developing training with Western's Sexualities and Genders Research (opens in a new window). Express interest in attending a face to face session by emailing the team.

In 2018, training was provided by the Gendered Violence Research Network (UNSW) (opens in a new window)