Responding to Disclosures: Guidance and Training

The following guidance is based on information developed by Rape Crisis South London, outlining key points to consider if a student discloses that they have experienced sexual harassment or violence.

The most important role for anyone receiving a disclosure is to create a safe environment where the person is able to make their own choices and decisions about what they would like to do next. 

  • Listen: Don’t interrupt or finish sentences. Concentrate on what the person is saying, not what you are going to say. Relate back to them what you have heard, so that you are clear and they can clarify anything they said.
  • Be honest: Be transparent about procedures such as confidentiality and safeguarding. If you do not know the answer to a question be honest and, if you can, find out later.
  • Do not offer advice, opinions or judgement: Avoid ‘Why’ questions and instead try to reframe using ‘How? ‘What?’ and ‘Where?’ It is important always that you come from a position of belief and not one of criticism.
  • Empathise: Try to avoid ‘sympathetic’ responses such as ‘I am sorry for you’ - instead reframe by using empathetic language such as ‘that sounds like it was really frightening’.
  • Validate: Validate what you have been told by letting the person know you understand how difficult it can be to talk and you’re glad they felt able to speak with you.
  • Signpost: The University’s website has information about the support available, and how to report an incident. Do not pressure the person into taking any course of action, what happens next must be their decision.
  • Empower: Remember, the person in front of you is the expert in themselves. This means whatever they did to survive and cope since the event has worked. Focus on their strengths and gently challenge feelings of self-blame. It is important that the person you are supporting is in control of the process. 

If the person has experienced sexual assault recently (within hours):
Inform the person that eating, drinking, teeth brushing, smoking, showering, urinating, defecating can impact on forensic evidence being gathered. In reality it’s likely the person may have done some of these things already – reassure this is natural in response to the trauma experienced.

Key questions

  • When did the assault take place?
  • If recent, is the person in any physical pain, do they need medical attention?
  • Are they safe right now?
  • What do they need from you in this moment?

Information related to disclosures or allegations of harassment or sexual violence will be treated as personal and sensitive in nature, and will be subject to strict confidentiality.

Explain to the student that you will not share their information with anyone else without their express consent. If you believe there is a serious risk of harm to the student or a third party, you should seek advice from your local Safeguarding Lead. In this scenario, every effort will be made to discuss this with the student in advance of disclosure. 

Support for you 
If you are upset or personally affected, please seek support. UAL staff can access confidential support through the Employee Assistance Programme. 

Support for students

Students can access confidential advice and support from trained members of UAL staff, or through a range of specialist agencies. Please inform the student that they can access support via Tell Someone or through the UAL Counselling Service.  

If you have concerns about a student, and wish to seek advice on the appropriate next steps, you can email or contact the Head of Counselling and Student Health directly.

Staff training

UAL is working in partnership with Rape Crisis South London to deliver bespoke training for staff. To find out more, please contact Bethan Williams