Students may make disclosures to you about sexual abuse and violence they have experienced – this might be the first time for you to receive a disclosure and you might be the first person they have opened up to so it's important to know what to do. For additional guidance, see the Helping Distressed Students Guide
Training in Dealing with Disclosures of Gender-based Violence is available for staff on the morning or afternoon of the 31st January and 4th March 2020. To book, please contact Develop or book through self-service.
First, ensure the student has some privacy to talk and let them know you are ready to listen – it takes courage and trust for people to speak about distressing experiences. Try to remain calm, not to show surprise or shock and let the student know that you believe what they say. It is not your role to investigate or pressure the student to make a full and detailed disclosure but you should take notes of what is discussed as this may be required for any future court case that may arise. Remain focused on them and what they want to happen now. It is important not to advise them to report their experience to the police or external service if this is not what they want to do (at this stage or at all). Survivors need to know that there are people they can turn to but also that they can re-claim their ability to make choices.
Depending on the circumstances, you may be the initial point of contact for the student and, whilst this will be an important first step in the student’s experience of making disclosures, there is also other support available to help the student reflect further on their experiences and consider next steps. One of these might be reporting – in which case, let the student know about how they can do this by signposting them to the University’s online tool. They may wish to fill this in anonymously or choose to share details and be linked in with support.
Receiving disclosures can be distressing and so it is also important that you take care of yourself afterwards so you are encouraged you to take a short break, where possible, before moving onto other tasks that day. Please remember that the EAP (Employee Assistance Service) service is available to all staff and that staff can consult with the Student Counsellor if they are concerned about a student – for more information please see the ‘information for staff’ section on the Student Counselling Page.
Friends, Family or Partners
If you are the friend, family member or partner of a student disclosing to you, it has taken them courage to trust you with sharing their experiences and it is likely to be upsetting to hear about what your loved one has gone through. Ensure that you both have some privacy, though this can be difficult at times if, for example, you both happen to be at home. Try to remain calm, let the student know you are ready to listen and that you will try to help them identify next steps. Reassure them that they do not have to go into any details or share more than they are comfortable with. At this stage, it is more about the student feeling less alone after having unburdened some of what they have experienced and helping them start to make sense of where to turn to next.
Where possible, help them to focus on immediate self-soothing strategies. The student may find it helpful to be reassured that you hold them in just as high regard as before the disclosure and that you will still be there for them afterwards. Survivors often worry that, in some way, they may be to blame for what happened. Assure them that what happened to them was absolutely not their fault and, perhaps, share something of what you value about them as a person and that it takes strength to speak about what is on their mind.
It may be tempting, out of care, concern and worry for them, to urge them to report the incident to the Police. This may be what they decide to do at some stage but it might not be the first step they wish to take and it is likely that they may need some time to process the shock. It is usually a good idea to encourage them to reach out to professional services as soon as possible – for example their GP, local Crisis Service, or Student Services or Student Union.
Remember not to forget yourself. After the disclosure try to focus on what you need, whether this is time alone or doing something relaxing that helps you to process what you have heard. Loved ones of survivors often blame themselves for not having done more, for not spotting the signs or for not protecting the person more - try not to dwell on these thoughts and focus more on what you can do now to help yourself and them. You may need to offload and unburden but try to remember that your friend or family member entrusted you and, unless they have explicitly said so, they probably do not want what they have shared to be passed on to other friends or family members. If you need to speak to someone about your own feelings, then remember that people are there for you too, whether that is your peer support at accommodation, Student Union, Student Services or a trusted friend.
Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre has more information on how to support a family member, friend or partner - follow the links under 'information'.