Do you know someone who has been sexually assaulted or harassed?

Be aware of how to take action immediately and effectively when a survivor of sexual violence discloses to you.

It is very difficult for a survivor to speak about his or her traumatic experience, so be patient and understanding. The mere fact that he or she is willing to confide in you means a lot. The following advice will help you adjust your behaviour and attitudes to help a survivor to the best of your abilities.

Do not hesitate to consult professionals to support you if you experience difficulties distancing yourself emotionally from the situation. Refer to our resources.

If the person confides in you immediately after the incident

  • Contact the police (911) or Protection Services (613-562-5411) if the person (or others) is in immediate danger or needs medical attention.
  • Encourage the person to preserve the evidence, for example, by going to the hospital for a sexual assault evidence exam (rape kit). The person will be able to use this evidence later if they wishes.
  • They may need to change their locks or install a surveillance camera or outdoor lights, even move. Respect their decision and help them, if necessary.
  • Listen to the person without interrupting and encourage them to take their time if necessary. Don’t forget that every survivor reacts differently. 
  • Believe the person and respect their reactions and how they expresses themselves. Tell them what they feels is normal. Remind them that they are not to blame and that although talking about it is difficult and uncomfortable, they are brave to do so. Tell them they did what they had to in order to survive.
  • Help them determine individuals or loved ones they could trust, whether for emotional support or a place to stay temporarily, etc. Remember that it’s not your place to tell others what has happened to them.
  • Encourage them to find the necessary support and let them make their own decision. If they wants, help them explore their options and accompany them through the process.
  • Ask them what you can do to help but do not advise them (“If I were in your situation…”, “You should tell…”, “If you do nothing, he’ll do it again…”, etc.). They are speaking to you so that you listen to them and support them in their healing, not for you to tell them what to do.

For more information on how to support a survivor, check out the Harmful and helpful responses and Supporting a survivor pages.

  • Supporting a survivor is not always easy. Make sure you find support for yourself.
  • Help the person explore their options and go with them if they wish, for emotional support. Let them choose which services or resources they wish to use. 
  • If you are unable to emotionally distance yourself or to provide the appropriate support for meeting their needs, provide them with information on other professionals and resources (see list of resources).

Contact us

Human Rights Office

1 Stewart St.
(Main Floor – Room 121)
Ottawa, ON, Canada
K1N 6N5

Tel.: 613-562-5222
Email: [email protected]

Office Hours

Monday to Friday, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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