If someone discloses sexual violence to you, it's ok not to have all the answers. You don't need to be an expert to support them.
What to say to a survivor:
- I believe you.
- It’s not your fault.
- You can choose what to do next.
What to expect
Each survivor has their own personal experience, emotions, and ways of coping. This means they might not always act in a way we expect a survivor to act, or they may act out of character. It’s important not to question them, as trauma can present in many different ways, and they may have spent a long time building up the courage to tell you.
When they disclose to you, they may:
- Be incredibly sad and crying
- Appear flat or calm
- Try to minimise the experience
- Be angry
- Try to defend the perpetrator (most people know the perpetrator and may have conflicting emotions because that person was/is their partner, their friend, their classmate)
- Exhibit memory loss
- Demonstrate an inability to concentrate
- Have a panic attack
- Be unsure, or questioning
Each is a normal reaction to a traumatic event. There is no right or wrong way to act.
Always remember to look after yourself too. Supporting a friend who has experienced sexual violence can require a lot of emotional strength and you are likely to hear some distressing information. Take time to reflect on your own well-being, make space for self-care, and try to set clear boundaries so you both understand how much support you are able to give.
It is important to know that an individual can get support, even if they don’t want to report the incident to the police or the University. If someone discloses to you that they have been subjected to sexual violence, believe them, listen to them and validate them. Then follow the steps below.
Make sure they are in a safe location away from the perpetrator if the assault has just happened. If they are in immediate danger dial 999 for the emergency services or phone Security on +44(0)1782 733004. Security can also help with emergency accommodation if needed.
If you are approached by a student at Keele for advice and support in relation to any behaviour which was unwanted and which might have amounted to sexual harassment, sexual assault or sexual violence, the most important thing to remember is compassion. Reassure the person that they have done the right thing coming forward, and that there are a lot of support options out there, if they feel ready for that. Reassure the person that you believe them; as a first responder, you don’t have to question or doubt what the person is telling you, just offer support.
Let the person talk, and don’t ask lots of questions as the person will usually tell you what you need to know. You only need to know enough to identify this as an incident of sexual violence, so that you can refer them to appropriate support. Let the person know you’re listening and also that you’re not judging. Remember - regardless of how drunk someone was, or what they were wearing, or where they were when the incident happened, it is never the victim survivor’s fault.
Remember - always be led by the victim survivor. If they do not want to report the incident to the police, you should not make a report to the police. If they do not want to make a formal complaint to the University, they do not have to. It is important the victim survivor is in control of what happens next.
If the person is willing, you can support them in contacting a member of the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Team, based in the Student Services Centre. They will be allocated a Sexual Violence Liaison Officer (SVLO) who will be able to go through all the support and reporting options available to them in a trauma-informed environment.
If the student doesn’t want to speak to an SVLO, encourage them to tell a trusted friend or family member and to seek medical advice, if relevant. They can independently access counselling through the University's Counselling and Mental Health Support service. There are also various support options they can access, including ASK in KeeleSU and Savana in Hanley. There are also many online support options - you can find a selection here.
The Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Team can help with:
- Support - they will listen to and support the student
- Academic support and adjustments, i.e. exceptional circumstances
- Referral to counseling and mental health support
- Information about University policies and procedures
- Emergency accommodation
- Guidance on reporting options
- Guidance on accessing medical services
- Referral to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre
- Referral to GUM Clinic
This team is made up of individuals who have received expert and specialist training and who are able to provide sensitive, professional support to individuals who have been victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment. They are able to refer individuals to the most appropriate services whether an incident has recently occurred or is a historic incident.
The team is accessible during office hours (09:00-17:00) Monday - Friday. Outside of office hours, advice and support will be provided by Out of Hours Support or Security in the first instance, and escalated where necessary.
All information concerning sexual assault and sexual violence should be treated in confidence as far as possible. Information should only be shared on a need-to-know basis - that means, only when it has a direct benefit for the victim survivor, and even then, only with the person’s consent.
There may be circumstances in which confidentiality cannot be maintained, e.g. where in your opinion the victim/survivor or other members of the community may be in serious or immediate danger. The individual’s consent would normally be sought if disclosure has to be made, and a decision on disclosure without consent should be made in discussion with the safeguarding lead in your school or directorate.
You should always document the decision to disclose without consent and the reasons for this, as well as informing the individual of the decision to disclose without their consent.
These caveats to confidentiality should be explained to the individual concerned. If they are unwilling to accept these caveats, you should support the individual to contact support agencies that will deal with individuals on an anonymous basis detailed in the resources section.
If the person disclosing the sexual violence is happy to be referred for support to the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Team, they can help with the following:
Trained members of staff from Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Team will provide appropriate advice and support and will ensure that appropriate referrals for specialist support are made. This may include referral to the following services:
- Referral to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre
- Referral to counseling and mental health support on campus
- Specialist support in the local area
- Online support options provided by national organisations
Where possible appropriate adjustments will be made to enable the student to continue with their course. These will include:
- Submission of Exceptional Circumstances forms - Staff will assist with the completion of ECs and provide letters of supporting evidence outlining that the student has experienced ECs of a personal and confidential nature
- Students can request delayed assessment opportunities or further opportunities for assessment as a first attemp
- Students can request extensions to deadlines for the submission of written assignments
- In some cases alternative modes of assessment, e.g. written work to replace group work or presentations, should be considered
Staff will liaise with academic Schools and the Examinations Office to arrange:
- Examinations in an individual or smaller room
- 25% extra time
Teaching and attendance at classes
- Staff will liaise with academic schools to explain possible absences from classes
- Notes for any missed lectures will sought
- Changes to the timetable and alternative teaching slots should also be considered if appropriate
Leave of Absence
- If a student feels taking some time out from their course will be beneficial, a period of Leave of Absence will be authorised.
- Staff will provide appropriate supporting evidence for this and will advise the student of any practical and financial implications of this.
- Staff will provide support through the period of leave, ensuring that contact is maintained following transition back into study.
For students living in University accommodation:
- Changing to another room on campus (if appropriate)
- Financial assistance with any additional costs
- Additional security measures to be considered for existing accommodation (eg, window locks, security patrols, timing on automatic doors)
For students living off campus:
- Offer of room on campus, where appropriate
- Financial assistance with additional costs of this
- If students need to move rooms, financial assistance may be provided to assist with any additional costs
- If a student is unable to work, support will provided to apply for a hardship loan
- Replacement mobile phones will be lent to students if their phones have been taken by police for forensic investigations
- Students will be given appropriate telephone numbers to access out of hours support
- SafeZone is available to all students and guidance on downloading and using the app is available
- Students can access personal safety alarms, if required
- Staff will ensure relevant information is shared with the University’s Security team so that additional Security measures can be introduced. This could include additional surveillance and visits to Halls, for example.
- If a student needs a car parking permit this will be approved
Making a formal report to the University
- If the student wishes to make a formal report to the University, their Sexual Violence Liaison Officer will be able to make an appointment with the Serious Incident Officer who can talk the student through the process.
- Once a formal complaint is received, temporary measures may be put in place to limit and manage the reporting student’s interaction with the accused student. These may include a no contact requirement, and/or limiting the accused student’s access to the library or the Students’ Union, for example. Find out more information.