How to respond when someone tells you they’ve experienced violence

Tips for responding to disclosures

Campaigns like the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence open-up conversations about gender equality, respectful relationships and violence against women. When having these conversations with our communities, in our workplaces – even with our mates – there’s a good chance that someone may share that they have experienced or witnessed violence.  

Being trusted with a disclosure like this might feel overwhelming, but there are some simple ways you can respond that will make the person feel supported.

The three most important things you can do are:

  • listen without interruption or judgement
  • believe and validate their experience
  • give them information about specialist support services.  

Read on for tips on how to respond to disclosures in a way that’s sensitive and supportive.  

Tips for responding to disclosures

When responding to disclosures, try to:

  • listen, without interruption or judgement, giving the person time to share their experience
  • believe what the person is saying  
  • affirm they are brave in being able to come forward
  • emphasise that they are not to blame for their experience
  • be honest and open about your skills and knowledge and the kind of support you can provide
  • provide information about support services in a way that is safe and supportive
  • keep the conversation confidential. There are exceptions if you believe the person’s safety is at immediate risk (call 000), you become aware that a child’s safety is at risk, or you have a professional responsibility for escalating an issue. In these instances be clear about the limits to confidentiality.  

What to avoid when responding to disclosures

It can feel upsetting when someone tells you they’re experiencing violence – particularly if they’re someone close to you. We can tend to want to jump into solutions-mode or feel frustrated that someone we care about is in this situation.  

But remember how you respond can impact a victim survivor’s willingness to seek further help. After being trusted with a disclosure, try not to:

  • find out the details
  • fix the situation for them
  • suggest the situation is somewhat their fault – don’t ask questions like ‘why do you put up with it?’ or ‘how can you still stay with them?’  
  • give advice or tell them what to do – it will reduce their confidence to make their own decisions  
  • judge or criticise their choice – even if you don’t agree with it
  • criticise the perpetrator – it may only make the person want to defend them. Focus on criticising the abusive behaviour and let them know that no one should abuse them.
  • provide counselling – if you are not a counsellor or do not have specialist training in responding to family violence, be honest and open about that.

What you could say

These are some ideas of what you could say. It’s important you only say these genuinely, and that you use your own words.  

  • What happened is not okay and wasn’t your fault.
  • I’m glad you told me.
  • No one should have to experience what you’ve been through.
  • Do you feel safe at the moment?
  • I’m not a specialist in helping people with experiences like yours – but I can give you the contact details of a support service you can talk if you feel ready.

Remember your own self-care

Self-care is important when working to prevent and respond to violence against women. It’s a priority and necessity – not a luxury. If you find yourself feeling down or depleted when supporting someone through a disclosure, you may need to take some time out. There are lots of ways you can do this, including:

  • Reach out to someone. This could be a family member, trusted friend or workmate, your manager, a counsellor, or a support service.
  • Rest and recharge. Have some time with no goals – take a day off, spend some time outside or reading, see your friends, take a nap... whatever helps you reenergise.
  • Play – have fun and do things that make you laugh. Play with your little ones or pets, do something creative, watch your favourite movie… whatever puts a smile on your face.  

More information and resources

For more information and resources about responding to disclosures, download the 16 Days of Activism 2023 Toolkit.  

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