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Publication

How to Help and Become an Ally

Last updated: 16 May 2019
Published: 8 May 2019
From: Department of Justice and Equality

Introduction

Many of us have come across something in the past which has made us feel uneasy and uncomfortable but we did not know what to do.

Maybe you:

  • were sent a message that was passing around an intimate image that was meant to be private when it was taken
  • have seen a girl being led while staggering at 3am and you wondered if that was her boyfriend leading her or a stranger taking advantage
  • felt uncomfortable when a work colleague claimed sometimes it’s just ‘easier’ to give into sex demands from a spouse, even when not in the mood, or there’d be trouble

If you have felt this way in the past, maybe you missed an opportunity to say something and stop someone becoming a victim of sexual violence.

If you suspect a friend, family member or even a stranger is experiencing sexual violence, finding a supportive way to get involved may seem overwhelming. It is okay to be scared, repulsed or afraid that we have misinterpreted the situation.

But it is not okay to do nothing, not anymore.

Enough is enough.

  • we need to step up
  • we need to become allies
  • we need to become more open to hearing those who disclose to us
  • we need to assist them to get help
  • we need to be able to see and recognise actions that lead up to sexual violence
  • we need to hold sexual violence and the actions that lead up to it totally unacceptable
  • we need to act (if safe and legal to do so) on precursors to sexual violence
  • we need to increase our awareness of services available

If we even do a few of these things then persons suffering such violence will be more willing to ask for help and know they are believed, understood and supported by family, friends, relatives, neighbours and the wider community.

Helping someone you know

What can I do if someone tells me that they have been sexually assaulted?

If you find yourself in a situation where someone tells you directly or indirectly that they have experienced sexual assault of some description, it is important that the person feel safe and comfortable talking to you.

Here is some advice about how to respond to that person.

It is important to remember that you cannot make decisions for the person, only they can decide what action they wish to take.

What you can do is:

  • tell the person you are glad they told you about what happened, and that you want to help
  • tell them you believe them
  • tell them that they do not have to be alone with this
  • tell them that they have time to think about what they want to do, and that you will continue to help them
  • give them time to think. If this is the first time they have told anyone, they might "pull back" a little and need to get used to the idea that someone else knows
  • if it is a very recent assault, tell them about the options available at a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit and about the possibility of reporting the incident to An Garda Síochána, if they are willing to do so.
  • tell them that the decision is really up to them, and that you will support their decision.
  • tell them that you can help them find out about support agencies and assist them to ring a support agency. You can offer to go with them to the support agency for the first time, if they want

You may at times find it difficult to give your support, and you can ring your local Rape Crisis Centre or the Rape Crisis Helpline (1800 77 88 88) to get help about this.

Research shows clearly that a good response to a disclosure makes an enormous difference to victims, including in their long-term recovery and in their decision to take up support services.

What can I do if I suspect an adult I know has experienced sexual violence?

If you suspect that an adult you know has experienced sexual assault, you could raise the topic of sexual abuse in their company.

For example, you could talk about something you saw in the paper or on TV, and you can say that if anyone ever told you, you would help them. This could be a way to let them know that you are comfortable talking about abuse, and that you would be supportive if they told you.

You could also call your local Rape Crisis Centre or the Rape Crisis Helpline (1800 77 88 88) for advice.

Helping a stranger

If you witness something that makes you feel uneasy because you are unsure if it is consensual, it’s tempting to turn a blind eye or choose to ignore it because it is an uncomfortable situation to be in.

It is okay to be scared, repulsed or afraid that you have misinterpreted the situation.

But it is not okay to do nothing. Enough is enough. If you do nothing you may be allowing another person to become a victim of sexual harassment or sexual violence.

There are many different ways that you can step in or make a difference if you see someone at risk. There is not a textbook way to intervene to prevent sexual harassment or sexual violence because every situation is different, just as every person in that situation is different.

The key to becoming an ally is to learn how to intervene in a way that fits the situation and your comfort level.

However, a model for intervening in terms of sexual harassment or sexual violence has been developed and having this knowledge on hand can give you the confidence to step in when something isn’t right.

This model is called ‘The Three Ds' and is outlined below. Stepping in can make all the difference, but it should never put your own safety, or another person’s safety, at risk.

Distract

Creating a distraction is an indirect and non-confrontational way to intervene, and it can help keep a dangerous situation from escalating. It can also be useful if you are unsure if a situation is unsafe but you still feel the need to make sure.

You can try distracting either the person being sexually aggressive, or the potential victim. Either way, your goal is to prevent a situation from getting worse, or better yet, buy enough time to check in with the potential victim and ask if there is a problem.

You could insert yourself into the conversation, for example: “hey aren’t you John’s friend” or “where do I get the bus to...”. By doing so you are offering the person you are concerned about an opportunity to excuse themselves.

Delegate

There are times when it may be more appropriate for you to ask someone else to intervene. For example in a bar or nightclub you could ask a staff member to check on someone you feel is vulnerable or being targeted by a sexual aggressor.

If you have been drinking your perception of danger may be reduced. Remember in a bar or nightclub glasses and bottles can become weapons.

On some occasions the most appropriate action you could take would be to ring the Gardaí and tell your concerns of what you are witnessing.

Sometimes when you don’t know the victim and the abuser, someone else in the room might. Friends of the people involved might be in a better position to get involved, and they might have a better opportunity for a sustained intervention than you. You could say to them, “Look, I’m concerned about that person. Would you be able to check in on the situation now or later?”

Direct

In a direct approach you either approach the potential victim, or potential abuser, and intervene. This should never be violent, as you will just be putting yourself and the potential victim in danger.

You can just ask the person you are concerned about if they are ok and you can offer to call them a taxi or a safe way home. You can tell the potential abuser that you are concerned about the potential victim and you are uncomfortable leaving them alone in that situation.

You can be more subtle if you wish and use body language to communicate disapproval and make your presence and concern known. You could do this just by watching what is happening and making it obvious that you’re keeping an eye on the situation.

Helping a child

Child Sexual Abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or arousal, or for that of others. It includes the child being involved in sexual acts (masturbation, fondling, oral or penetrative sex) or exposing the child to sexual activity directly or through pornography.

Child sexual abuse may cover a wide spectrum of abusive activities. It rarely involves just a single incident and in some instances occurs over a number of years. Child sexual abuse most commonly happens within the family, including older siblings, extended family members, and also by figures in authority over children.

Cases of sexual abuse mainly come to light through disclosure by the child or his or her siblings/friends, from the suspicions of an adult, physical symptoms, and/or by inappropriate sexual acting out.

An Garda Síochána will deal with any criminal aspects of a sexual abuse case under the relevant criminal justice legislation. The prosecution of a sexual offence against a child will be considered within the wider objective of child welfare and protection. The safety of the child is paramount and at no stage should a child’s safety be compromised because of concern for the integrity of a criminal investigation.

In relation to child sexual abuse, it should be noted that in criminal law the age of consent to sexual intercourse is 17 years for both boys and girls. Any sexual relationship where one or both parties are under the age of 17 is illegal. However, it may not necessarily be regarded as child sexual abuse. Details on exemptions for mandated reporting of certain cases of underage consensual sexual activity can be found in Chapter 3 of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children.

How to report a concern you have about a child

In an emergency, where the person is at immediate risk, you should contact the Garda Síochána or emergency services on 999 or 112.

Anyone can report a concern about a child. If you have any concerns about a child you should report it to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

A report can be made in person, by telephone or in writing. Any member of the public who has a concern about a child can contact the local social work duty service in the area where the child lives. If the child is in danger outside office hours you can contact the Gardaí.

According to Tusla, you should always inform them when you have reasonable grounds for concern that a child may have been, is being, or is at risk of being abused. If you ignore what may be symptoms of abuse, it could result in ongoing harm to the child.

It is not necessary for you to prove that abuse has occurred to report a concern to Tusla. All that is required is that you have reasonable grounds for concern. It is Tusla’s role to assess concerns that are reported to it.

If you report a concern, you can be assured that your information will be carefully considered with any other information available and a child protection assessment will be carried out where sufficient risk is identified.

For more information on how to report a concern, and to learn about the ‘Children First’ guidelines which act as a roadmap to help parents, professionals, organisations and the general public to identify and report child abuse and welfare concerns go to Tusla

Information on helplines available to children

In an emergency dial 999 for An Garda Síochána
Child Sexual Abuse Freephone complaints of child abuse can be made over the phone to An Garda Síochána in a confidential manner 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to 1800 555 222.
Childline freephone 1800 666 666 or www.childline.ie
Teenline freephone 1800 833 634 - 7pm-10pm daily or info@teenline.ie
Teentext by texting 'talk' to 50101 10am-4pm daily
CARI - 1890 924 567 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. Information for victims of child sexual abuse and non-offending parents.

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