How Can I Support Affected Persons?

This section provides information on how you as a university member can support affected persons and how you can take good care of yourself and your own safety.

What Should I Avoid and Why?

Taboo, shame and insecurity are frequent side effects of sexualized discrimination and violence, both on the part of those affected and among supporters in their environment. It is therefore useful to know some of the most common defensive reactions when confronted with sexualized discrimination and violence (also referred to as: sexual harassment) in order to avoid them.

(The following is inspired by the recommendations of Elli Scambor & Johanna Stadlbauer 2019, Handbook of the EU-Project Culture of Care, Online Edition)


Defensive reaction: Denial or trivialization of the trauma suffered by those affected
Possible consequences: Those affected are discouraged, give up


Defensive reaction: Rationalization: justifying intolerable acts by perpetrators through seemingly logical arguments
Possible consequences: Those affected are discouraged, feel ashamed, give up


Defensive reaction: Strong emotional distancing (e.g. for self-protection)
Possible consequences: Those affected do not feel that they are heard, that they are taken seriously


Defensive reaction: Over-identification with those affected
Possible consequences: Objective decision-making, a structured approach and adequate support become more difficult


Defensive reaction: Psychologization - the personal experience of those affected is theorized and explained
Possible consequences: The suffering of those affected becomes a concept or model, the person is only treated as a case


Defensive reaction: Identification with the perpetrator
Possible consequences: This complicates both empathy with those affected & appropriate action


Defensive reaction: To see yourself as the only savior
Possible consequences: Decisions are made single-handedly, relevant actors and advisory institutions are not included


Defensive reaction: To not feel responsible / competent & delegate responsibility quickly
Possible consequences: Joint, coordinated action is made more difficult and those affected are discouraged

What Are Helpful Supportive Actions?

How you can and should deal with an incident of sexualized discrimination and violence depends on your relationship with the person affected and your role at the university. The following information can apply to all university members.

Recommendations for helpful action when confronting sexualized discrimination and violence are:

  • Stay calm and act carefully, even if the situation seems extremely urgent to you.
  • If you observe anything regarding the situation yourself, document and discuss it with trusted persons. Differentiate between what you have experienced, reports from third parties, and assumptions / interpretations.
  • Find out about contact points within and outside the university.
  • Get information from internal support services such as the Equal Opportunities Office or the ombudsperson for lecturers and students. They only have to act if you wish so.
  • Information from external advice centers and (anonymous) hotline services can also be helpful to get a better overview of the situation.
  • Stay in touch with the person affected and do not immediately delegate all responsibility.
  • Check whether there is an acute danger and support the person in escaping the dangerous situation.
  • If possible, explore whether the person concerned has a supportive environment that can be involved.
  • Be careful that the information does not reach the potential perpetrator.
  • Make your next steps transparent to the person concerned and include them.
  • The aim should be the best possible coordinated cooperation between the supporting actors among themselves and with the person concerned. There may be support conferences with people who can provide important information about the situation in order to plan the next steps together.
  • Consider the legal situation that comes into play in the situation as well as any responsibilities that arise for you from it (e.g. as a person in leadership).
  • If necessary, take advantage of supervision or psychological counseling.

Additional information for persons in management positions:

  • You are responsible to be a contact person in cases of harassment and violence.
  • Point out to the person affected that you are obliged to take action against sexualized discrimination and violence and that you must take further steps if you are aware of a case.
  • If you are conducting an initial consultation, make sure to inform yourself on the proceedings with the help of this informational paper.

What Is a Supportive Attitude in a One-On-One-Meeting?

If someone discloses to you what has happened to them, you can take a supportive stance. The following recommendations are based on work by the psychologist Anna Wittmann (developed for children/youth work contexts). They can be helpful regardless of your professional position or your relationship with the person affected.

  • Remain calm and don't impose your own feelings on the person.
  • Signal that you can be trusted with this kind of information.
  • Make it clear to the person that they are not to blame for sexualized discrimination and violence.
  • Be appreciative that the person has the courage to tell you something.
  • Communicate that you believe the person, even if what they report seems illogical, doubtful or unbelievable to you.
  • Accept if the person doesn't want to continue speaking and don't push for details.
  • Communicate that the person is not alone in being affected by sexualized discrimination and violence, and that this happens to many people in the context of higher education.
  • Do not promise anything that you will not be able to keep (e.g. secrecy if you are required by your function to pass on the information).
  • Ensure that the person has some control of the situation and make sure that all steps that you take are discussed with them beforehand.
  • Demonstrate an open, attentive posture and keep eye contact.
  • While the person is speaking, listen actively, for example without pre-formulating answers in your head.
  • Summarize key statements and allow the person to correct them.
  • Do not give advice, but offer to find solutions together.
  • Make constant, unobtrusive offers for discussions.

Source: Wittmann, Anna Julia (2015). Kinder mit sexuellen Missbrauchserfahrungen stabilisieren. Handlungssicherheit für den pädagogischen Alltag. München/Basel: Reinhardt.

Self-Care When Supporting Persons Affected

Situations in which those affected share what they have experienced can be challenging for everyone involved. Self-care is helpful for supporters in order to maintain their own well-being and to ensure their own safety in potentially dangerous situations. Self-care can include:

  • Taking advantage of intervision and supervision.
  • Attending further training that increases skills and knowledge on action.
  • Maintaining support networks in a professional context.
  • Awareness of personal symptoms of stress and taking countermeasures by doing what is usually good for you.
  • Maintaining sports and other hobbies more intensively.
  • Seeking talks with friends and family.
  • Raising awareness of your own security (e.g. documentation of threats).
  • Learning self-assertion techniques (e.g. WenDo).
  • Seeking professional help (crime prevention agency, psychological counseling, ...).

Back to the Main Page

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Examples for inappropriate actions, how to recognize and name sexualized discrimination and violence, information on consequences for the affected as well as regulations and guidelines are available at „What Is Sexualized Discrimination and Violence“.

The university’s stance on sexualized discrimination and violence, information on a preventative academic culture, and consequences in cases of inappropriate actions can be found here: "How Do We Cooperate at This University".

For information on support through the university, accounts of affected persons about their coping mechanisms, tips for taking action, and becoming sure and safe, please visit the page "What Can I Do If I am Personally Affected?".

A list of recommendations for raising awareness as well as materials and resources are available at "How Can I Raise Awareness in My Surroundings?"

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