What other barriers may exist for individuals in terms of accessing help and support?



To communicate effectively with individuals who have experienced sexual harm we must acknowledge and truly understand the barriers that they may face. By acknowledging these barriers, we can adapt our communication so that they have a better chance of being effective.

The types of barriers an individual may experience could include:

  • Not recognising or understanding that they are being harmed, particularly if being harmed is all they have ever known or if they have been coerced in some way
  • Not being believed by people in their family
  • Being a child
  • Being in a relationship with, or related to, the person causing the harm
  • Being dependent on the person causing the harm (for example a parent or carer)
  • Not being able to articulate what’s happened/happening to them, which is particularly relevant for children and young people
  • Not being able to read or write
  • Not knowing about or understanding consent
  • Not having the capacity to understand consent
  • Being in care or not having a family or access to their family
  • Not recognising the term ‘sexual violence’ because they perceive that no violence was involved in what happened / is happening
  • Natural responses to trauma such as: dissociation (you can find out more about dissociation on the Mind website[1] but one way of describing it can be as feeling completely numb), avoidance, guilt, panic attacks, hyperarousal, sleep problems, low self-esteem, grief, depression, suicidal feelings, self-harm, alcohol or substance misuse, irritability, anger, or flashbacks
  • Feelings of shame and embarrassment
  • Self-blame and feeling like they don’t deserve help
  • Not being able to see people who represent them / the community they come from, in the organisations offering help
  • Lack of detailed awareness/knowledge of what services provide and how specifically they may be able to help
  • Waiting lists for help and support
  • Not being ready or not feeling able to talk about their experience
  • Mistrust of the police and others
  • Being previously let down by organisations / statutory agencies
  • Being previously told by organisations that they ‘don’t meet the threshold’ to access a service that they have needed
  • Physical isolation
  • No support network and/or literally nobody to talk to
  • Any barriers associated with having one or more protected characteristics
  • Mental health difficulties or conditions (eg eating disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder etc)
  • Learning disabilities or difficulties
  • Dementia
  • Reduced or limited mobility
  • Living in an abusive household
  • Living in a rural community
  • Financial difficulties or financial dependence on the person who is causing the harm
  • Language issues
  • Literacy issues
  • No, limited or monitored access to IT / the internet
  • No, limited or monitored access to a phone
  • No, limited or monitored access to transport


please note that the following information may be triggering to anyone who has experienced or been affected by sexual harm.

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