6 ways you can make a difference
1. Give hope to others
Share stories about those who have rebuilt their lives and survived the sexual offences committed against them.
Many stories about sexual harm focus on sexual offences and reports of arrests or court proceedings. What is less communicated are stories of inspiration, hope, support, grit, and resilience for those who have rebuilt their lives following sexual harm.
Whilst individuals who have reported sexual offences have the legal right to anonymity, there are many who may be willing to tell their story if they think it may help generate action to prevent sexual harm, or support those affected by it. Specialist organisations working with survivors of sexual offences may be able to connect you safely and appropriately with individuals willing to share their story with you.
Share stories about those campaigning for change.
There are individuals working and volunteering in a diverse range of specialist organisations, many of whom have been campaigning for years, to help end sexual harm and they have expertise, experience, and their own unique stories to tell. ‘And also the stories of politicans who are using their influence to
campaign for change and to address social injustices.
2. Use language which affords dignity to those who have experienced sexual harm
Use simple language and avoid words, terms or phrases that could be considered as sensationalising or glorifying sexual offences and sexual harm. Find out more in our ‘how language and labels make a difference’ section.
3. Report stories with compassion and in ways that won’t re-traumatise
Tell people if a story contains details about sexual harm.
Individuals who have been affected by sexual harm may find some content triggering. Providing a warning at the start of a story gives individuals the opportunity to choose whether, when and how to view content, which can help keep them safe.
If you are asking someone to share details of their story, ensure they understand the potential long-term implications of that for them and those they care about.
When someone is experiencing trauma particularly in its early stages, they may agree to share very intimate details of their experience, especially if they believe it will help keep other people safe. The level of detail that they are comfortable sharing now might be different in the future so ensure they have all the information they need to make an informed choice.
If you are asking someone to share details of their story, give them guidance to help them make their decision.
Victim Support provide information for victims of crime about talking to the media online at www.victimsupport.org.uk/help-and-support/coping-crime[dealing-with-the-media/ as well as providing a guide on ‘dealing with the media’ via the Victim support ‘My Support Space’ at www.mysupportspace.org.uk/moj.
Guidance is also available from The Independent Press Standards Organisation called ‘Contact with the Media – Support for Survivors of Sexual Offences’ at https://www.ipso.co.uk/media/1587/contact-with-the-media-for-survivors.pdf.
4. Raise awareness of support
Add contact details for support services at the start of a story.
If someone has an emotional and/or physical response to what they read or hear, they might not be able to reach the end of the story so it is important to put information about where they can access help, right up front. This information can save lives.
Reference other organisations, not just the police and the courts.
If an Independent Sexual Violence Adviser, an independent charity, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, or any other organisation which is providing a service to support individuals is related to a story, provide a link to describe what they are and how to contact them. This helps to provide many more choices to individuals who have experienced sexual harm, and who may not know what their options are for help and support. Find out more in our directory of specialist organisations.
5. Help give a voice to those who may not be heard
For stories about children and young people, encourage readers to report concerns.
There are many reasons adults don’t report concerns they have about a child or young person being sexually harmed, fear of making a mistake being one of them but when we choose to do nothing we enable abuse. For stories relating to children and young people, encourage adults to report concerns to the police or anonymously to CrimeStoppers.
For stories about a vulnerable adult(s), encourage readers to report concerns.
Anyone who is concerned that a vulnerable adult may be at risk of sexual harm or another form of abuse or neglect can contact the confidential national Hourglass Service by phone, text, live chat and email (details at www.wearehourglass.org) or contact CrimeStoppers anonymously.
Seek out stories which help the public to understand the true scale and impact of sexual harm by speaking with specialist organisations.
Specific individuals and groups are more likely to experience barriers which means that sexual offences commitied against them, and the harm they have endured as a result, may be less visible in society.
Speak with recognised, specialist organisations who work in general to support specific groups of people.
(for example older people; children and young people; lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals) to explore their views about what those groups may be experiencing.
6. Challenge harmful stereotypes by raising awareness of the scale and complexity of sexual harm.
Avoid implications that someone was to blame for being sexually harmed.
Content which implies that an individual ‘made themselves vulnerable’ to being sexually harmed is damaging. Sexual harm is caused by those who commit sexual offences.
Avoid implications that false allegations of sexual harm are common.
Individuals who falsely allege sexual harm can devastate the lives of innocent people, and their actions are damaging and offensive to those who have genuinely experienced sexual offences.
Cases of false allegations of sexual harm should be reported but without further factual context this can create incorrect perceptions that false allegations are common. This can discourage individuals who may already fear not being believed, from reporting the crime(s) they have experienced and seeking help for the emotional and physical harm caused as a result.
When reporting about falsely alleged sexual harm, please use evidence to add context, eg: Research has shown that false allegations of rape are rare. A CPS report published in 2013 showed that over a 17-month period, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and, during the same period, there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape.
Avoid using stock images which perpetuate stereotypes.
Stock images which depict ‘victims of rape’ and sexual offences as young white females can perpetuate stereotypes of the ‘type’ of person who is at greater risk of experiencing a sexual offence.
For example, Office of National Statistic (ONS) data for the year ending March 2018 to year ending March 2020 combined indicates that adults of black or black British and mixed ethnicity were more likely to experience sexual assault than those of white, Asian or other ethnicity. For the same data period, the Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that women with a disability were more likely to have experienced sexual assault in the last year than women without a disability.