skip to content

Who is this guidance for?

This guidance is for anyone supporting someone who has been subjected to sexual harassment or violence. This could include University and College staff members who might have a student sharing or disclosing an experience of sexual violence or harassment, friends or family members.

What is my role when a student discloses?

When a student discloses to you, most of all they will want you to listen to them, believe them, and provide a safe and non-judgemental space for support.

What steps should I take?

Following a very recent reported incident of sexual violence:

  • assess whether the assailant is still in the vicinity and an imminent risk to either the student or to others. If you consider the situation to be an emergency call the police on 999
  • assess whether the student has any injury serious enough to require immediate medical attention. If so, call an ambulance on 999

If you are in College, you should also alert the Porter’s Lodge. For incidents in University premises call the University Security Office on 01223 331818.

You do not need the student’s consent in these exceptionally risky circumstances. However, where this level of risk is not present, it is for the student to choose whether the police should be informed.

  • If there is no immediate risk: Create a safe, confidential space and listen. Allow the student time and space to talk if they want to.
  • Be clear about any limits to your confidentiality.
  • Do not judge or question them.
  • Let the student know that they have options. They can report within or outside the University, or choose to take no action.
  • Do not impose your opinion about what you think they should do.
  • Give information about support options and signpost them to specialist support services.
  • Check whether alternative accommodation is required.
  • Make brief, factual notes of the student’s account of the incident. Ask the student to confirm that they agree with what is written.
  • Follow-up with the student in writing, repeating their options regarding support and reporting.


All disclosures should normally be treated as confidential, with the exception of where there is immediate and significant risk to the student or if you are made aware that a child and/or vulnerable adult is at risk. If in doubt, discuss with someone senior to you.

If you have a specific confidentiality policy within your role, then let the student know about any limits to this as early as possible. They will be able to make an informed decision regarding whether they want to go ahead and disclose to you.

Listening and note taking

  • If you write anything down, it must be brief and factual without recording opinions. Any notes taken by a “first responder” (if you are the very first person a student is telling) are known as a “first report”.Those can be used by the police or in court. Memories of an incident may be fragmented at this stage and you may unwittingly reinterpret what is said to you.
  • Focus on what is being said not on what you are going to say or do. Do not lead the conversation by asking questions. You are not investigating or gathering evidence.
  • Do not make assumptions about what the student wants, feels or felt.
  • Save your reactions and feelings for a debriefing session. It’s important to ensure that you have support as receiving disclosures can be impactful. The person you debrief with should be an appropriate colleague/senior colleague. The debrief should be done in a way that is mindful of the student’s confidentiality.
  • Make a note of the student’s name, alleged assailant’s name if known, time and date of incident. In addition, you may want to record what help/support you offered the student as part of your duty of care.
  • You can show the student anything you write down and ask them to confirm what you have written by signing it. This is not required, but you should indicate to the student that you are taking notes and why.

Reporting to the police

  • As a matter of course, staff should not go against the student’s wishes and report the incident to the police without their consent.
  • Only in cases where there is an immediate and serious risk to the safety of others (e.g. the assailant is still in the vicinity) should the Police be informed before discussing this with the student and obtaining their consent.
  • If the student does want to report to the police they can call Cambridgeshire Constabulary on 101 or attend the police station in person. More information about reporting can be found on Cambridge Rape Crisis.

Contact the team