What other factors need to be considered when designing communications?
In our conversations with individuals with lived experience of sexual harm and those who work with them, we have gathered a range of insight which we think is also just generally useful when thinking about how and what we communicate:
- Individuals with lived experience of sexual harm, when offered the opportunity and supported appropriately, can fundamentally assist organisations to communicate about this issue well. Their voices are powerful, insightful and true.
- If your organisation wishes to use the expertise of specific individuals with lived experience of sexual harm in the development of any work, please consider paying them, or making a financial contribution to their efforts if they are a group, as they will be providing you with expert knowledge and their time. Failure to do so may be considered exploitation.
- Sexual harm is generated by sexual crimes and if our communications relate to very specific crimes, it’s important to name those crimes for what they are.
- Trauma associated with sexual harm can remain with an individual, but their experience does not have to define them as a whole person or inhibit the life they want to live.
- Using stock imagery which depicts individuals at their most vulnerable (eg ‘head hugging’) can be insensitive and perpetuate stereotypes (eg only young white women experience sexual offences). Individuals who have experienced sexual offences are so much more than the harm they have experienced, and other more positive but still respectful and dignified stock images can be used to help communicate key messages.
- Culturally a range of myths about sexual harm exist in our communities and it’s important to recognise what they are so that we can attempt to challenge them. Information about myths can be found on the Rape Crisis website at https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/about-sexual-violence/myths-vs-realities/.
- In our communications we must avoid damaging practices i.e. making promises that can’t be kept, giving false hope, giving too many messages at once, words without actions, words which don’t match visuals, and words that don’t reflect real life.
- Individuals deserve to know what they can expect to happen when they contact a service for information, help or support. Asking someone to telephone a number or fill out a form without saying what is going to happen if they do, will not inspire trust or confidence.
- We must use language that those we are communicating with use themselves, (e.g. their first language/ the language they are comfortable with using).
- We must use language which is easily accessible and without jargon.
- Appropriate (i.e. non-triggering) images/visuals are important particularly for those who have lower literacy levels or speak languages other than English.
- If data/statistics are to be used, they must be used sensitively and with a clear purpose. Telling someone that they are one in a large number of people affected by sexual harm can make them feel like ‘just a number’.
Recognising these fears may influence how, where and when we choose to communicate a specific message.