Services should be provided in environments which promote victim/survivor well-being and welfare

Providing appropriate environments for survivors of sexual violence has a direct impact on their well- being.

The environment has the capacity to prolong or exacerbate anxiety, or to assist in the development or maintenance of feelings of safety and calmness, both of which impact on the potential for recovery of the nervous system. This applies to both the physical environment itself, and the environment created by the tone of human interaction. Survivors often describe a sense of ‘being exposed’, that they feel as though everyone around them knows exactly what has happened to them, and this can trigger feelings of shame.

These issues apply to all environments in which the victim/survivor is required to be, whether that be an interview room, a waiting room, a police car, or a medical environment.

Following sexual assault, victims/survivors can be further impacted by the ways that they are treated, to the degree that contact with medical and legal systems can lead victims/survivors to experience higher levels of post-traumatic stress.[1]

  • Qualities of the physical environment:
  • Calm and smooth – avoid others coming in to the environment, loud or otherwise intrusive noises, sounds of anger or discord; temperature and lighting are appropriate for survivor comfort.
  • Survivor perceptions of control –  e.g. not sitting with their back to the door.

This enhances a sense of feeling ‘protected’ – not left alone, particularly in a public environment such as a waiting room or toilet area with partial walls; not exposed to offenders or reminders of them – their belongings, smells, sounds; not exposed to the scrutiny of uninvolved others.

  • The absence of misogyny or objectification – no signs of the denigration of women or the sexual objectification of women or men.
  • Young people have been found to prefer physical environments to be light, warm, inviting, home-like and welcoming.[2] Male victims/survivors have indicated creating a ‘male friendly entrance and waiting room using posters and relevant information’ such as newspapers and inclusive service information for men and families[3]. For the LBGTI+ community, ‘communicate that your service celebrates, not just tolerates, LGBTI+ individuals and communities from all cultural backgrounds through positive images, posters and signs in public spaces’, and ‘create an environment which celebrates gender and sexuality diversity’. [4]
  • Qualities of engagement and human interaction:
  • Have a genuine understanding of the seriousness of sexual assault and abuse.
  • Are sensitive to the survivor’s needs.
  • Do not minimise the trauma or stigma experienced by the survivor.
  • Do not stereotype the survivor.
  • Genuinely care for the safety and well-being of the survivor.
  • Behave with courtesy and compassion, and respect for survivor’s dignity and privacy.
  • Focussed – no discussion of other matters such as other cases or interagency issues.
  • Young people have been found to be looking for staff that are patient, trustworthy, young, caring, understanding and non-judgemental.[5]

  1.  Campbell, R. (1998). The community response to rape: Victims’ experiences with the legal, medical and mental health systems. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 355- 379.
  2.  Woodley, A., Davis, R., & Metzger, N. (2013). Breaking the silence but keeping secrets : what young people want to address sexual violence. Tu Wahine Trust; HELP (Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation). Auckland, NZ.
  3. Crisis Support Services for Survivors, (2016). Inclusive Practice – Supporting men. TOAH-NNEST.
  4. Crisis Support Services for Survivors. (2016). Inclusive Practice – Supporting people in the LGBTI+ community. TOAH-NNEST.
  5.  Woodley, A., Davis, R., & Metzger, N. (2013). Breaking the silence but keeping secrets: What young people want to address sexual violence. Tu Wahine Trust; HELP (Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation). Auckland, NZ


  1. Some crisis support services have no street signs so that survivors visiting them do not inadvertently disclose by being seen to enter the building.
  2. Some services provide two waiting rooms, with one being “woman only” for those survivors feeling too vulnerable to be in more public environments.
  3. From Mel, recently ex Wellington HELP: One of the things I most love that happened is that a survivor suggested we have an art space in the waiting room – so we did one up and it transformed the waiting area and gets such a positive response from people when they come in the first time – survivors’ own art is put up. It simultaneously makes the waiting area more beautiful and welcoming as well as meant that we took down the majority of the education type posters.
  4. Nga Whiitiiki Whanau  Ahuru Mowai o Aotearoa/ National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa Inc groups provide separate spaces for womyn only, whanau spaces and spaces where womyn are able to be supported by male supports or whanau e.g. Whangarei Rape Crisis have premises that provide one floor for womyn and one for whanau and have hours in the day where whanau are welcome and the rest of the day is for womyn only.