BFTH Part II: Having Tact during the Talk

Atieno Adongo is a development intern at STSM. She also is Master’s student at the Arnold School of Public Health at USC.

This month, I am writing a blog series called “Breaks from the Holidays” (BFTH). The goal of this series is take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday scene, and delve into conversations surrounding sexual assault. Below is Part II: Having Tact during the Talk.

“There is never a good time to have a difficult conversation, but there is always a good way to have one.” – Mike Kunin, Ramapo for Children Director

Much sharing happens during the holiday season. Many of us get to see family and friends whom we have not seen in a long time. It’s time to catch up on people’s lives and them on yours. It’s time to share successes, sadness and sometimes secrets. What if someone discloses to you that they have been sexually assaulted or raped? What is it time for you to do?

Learning about the assault of someone that you care about can be shocking and frustrating. One might not be sure of good ways to handle such a delicate conversation. Although talking about the assault can be difficult for the disclosee (a.k.a. you), the discloser needs you at this time for support. Thanks to WRSASC, below are eight good ways of responding during the discussion.

1. Listen.

2. Recognize harm done.

3. Convey belief.

4. Recognize strength and courage.

5. Be non-judgmental.

6. Let them retain control.

7. Be clear about boundaries.

8. Provide information (about resources for physical and mental health).

Let’s focus a bit on the concepts of listening and boundaries. One should note that the discloser in this situation “may speak in a casual manner and provide very little detail…[at first due to] exploring how it feels to talk about their experience and how others will react.” This casual manner does not mean that the assault has had little effect on the survivor’s life or that the survivor is very comfortable with sharing details of the assault.

Hence, avoid prying for more information and, instead, let the person disclose information at his/her own pace. Since such information is sensitive, remember to respect the person’s confidentiality. If you do feel the need to disclose information (such as with elderly and child abuse) to the authorities, be honest when conveying that need in the conversation.

Revealing an incident of sexual assault can be a difficult decision for a survivor. The disclosing of such information comes with a lot of trust. Although there is no perfect formula for the conversation, the eight suggestions stated above are good starting points. Please listen to a survivor even if you are feeling scared or uncomfortable. Everyone needs trust and support this holiday season. You can always call the STSM hotline to get help. We are available to help you figure out how you can support your loved one. Our hotline number is (803) 771-7273 or 1(800) 491-7273.


What to do if someone tells you they've been raped or sexually abused. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2014, from