A disclosure involves a person sharing an incident or experience of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct. This may be a recent incident, or it may have occurred in the past.
Every experience and disclosure will be different, and there is no one-way to respond.
You may not recognise a disclosure at first, and the affected person may not use terms such as ‘bullying’ ‘harassment’ ‘assault’ or ‘misconduct’ to describe their experience. However, it is important to listen and enable them to describe their experience in their own words.
Receiving a disclosure
Sharing an experience of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct is an act of trust and it is important that you affirm the affected person is not to blame.
Consider the following when receiving a disclosure:
- Encourage them to talk without putting words in their mouth. Be prepared for pauses or long silences
- Reassure them it is not their fault; and they are not alone
- Focus on listening rather than asking questions. If you do ask questions ensure they are open and avoid ‘why’
- State your boundaries and clarify what kind of support (if any) you can provide going forward.
- Assure them that they have options about what to do next – this is important in establishing their agency
- Provide support options available that may assist in helping determine their next steps
- Be clear regarding obligations of confidentiality and duty of care you may have
- Respect the affected person’s decision as to next steps
How should I respond?
You may not be a counsellor or trained professional, however how you respond may influence how the affected person deals with their experience. Remember that people who have experienced bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, have had their decision-making and control taken away from them; try to enable them to regain control and make their own decision about how they want to proceed.
- Show empathy
- Condemn the unacceptable behaviour
- Ask open questions and avoid ‘why’
- Provide options
The following lines may be helpful:
- ‘Thanks for sharing this experience with me…’ or ‘Thank you for trusting me with that information/ your experience’
- ‘I can hear that this has made you feel (use their words)’
- ‘I don’t have any special training in helping people with experiences like yours but I can give you contact details for people who do…’
- ‘Do you currently feel safe?’
- ‘It is because of experiences like yours that this organisation is involved in this work…’
Know your role and practice self-care
The most important thing you can do is listen to the person and take their disclosure seriously.
If you are concerned for someone’s safety then you may help them to act, without forcing them to do so. Sometimes it may be enough to acknowledge that they have shared the experience with you.
It's challenging to hear of such experiences and it is important to acknowledge how you are feeling, practice self-care and seek support. You may have feelings about the incident or opinions about what the person should do – these are important to acknowledge for your own self-care. Remember, you can still seek support following a disclosure without breaching obligations of confidence.