Teachers and schools

The subjects discussed in Mates & Dates may prompt disclosures of abuse, harmful behaviour, or harmful sexual behaviour by students. This page provides some guidance in the event that happens.

How to handle disclosures of abuse

Many young people never disclose abuse. If a student chooses to share this with you, it is because they trust and believe you may be able to help.

Refer to How to handle disclosures of abuse (PDF 753K) for more information.

Responding to a disclosure in an appropriate way is an important factor in:

  • stopping the abuse (if it’s ongoing)
  • reducing the effects of abuse
  • meeting the needs of the young person.

If a student discloses experiences of abuse to you, it is important to:

  • remain calm and open to reiterate that you are a safe person to speak with
  • validate their experience and let them know that you take the disclosure seriously
  • listen to the student and ask them what they would like to do next. Suggest that you could seek specialist support together, and go with them to a specialist support agency if they would like
  • provide options – rather than telling them what to do. Being abused means being in a situation that you have no control over. It is important that the individual feels like they can regain some control over how they seek help
  • remain open-minded. Victims of abuse are often afraid that they will be blamed for what has happened to them. Avoid asking questions or making comments they may consider judgemental
  • acknowledge how difficult it must be for the student to share their experience with you
  • only tell the people who need to be involved in seeking support for the student as privacy may be a major concern for the individual
  • let them know you need to talk with people about this to ensure their safety if there is an immediate risk to the student. An example of this is when the abuser is a person at their school or someone they will have to spend time with. This may involve calling the Police or Child Youth and Family Services.
  • Refer to the Ministry of Education website for dramatic incident protocols if appropriate.

How to handle disclosures of harmful behaviour or harmful sexual behaviour

A core part of Mates & Dates is about recognising inappropriate or unhealthy relationship behaviour. Because of this, there’s a chance a student may recognise they have perpetrated abusive or harmful sexual behaviour and seek help or advice from you.

Teenage sexual behaviour becomes abusive if it involves someone much younger or with less power. It usually involves some form of coercion or manipulation and may involve force, threats or bribery.

Sexual activity is abusive if:

  • a person does not consent to it
  • the other person cannot consent eg if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • a young person shows a child or non-consenting person pornography or sexually explicit material.

If a student discloses that they have been perpetrating harmful sexual behaviour, you should:

  • stay calm and open-minded. If you react with anger they may not continue to talk to you about the issue
  • acknowledge that it must have been difficult for them to tell you this and let them know that you will work with them to get them help
  • let them know that it is important that you speak with someone to ensure their safety and the safety of others
  • act quickly to seek specialist help and support from an agency in your community if this is necessary. Talk with the student about this and let them know what will happen next
  • depending on the situation, ensure measures are put in place to stop the student being left alone with other young people or children. This may include reporting to school management.

Creating a safe school environment

Most schools have a policy for dealing with bullying. Some policies mention sexual harassment as a form of bullying, but few recognise that sexual and dating violence are problems in their own right. This creates a barrier to promoting healthy relationships and student learning.

Having a specific policy around preventing sexual and dating violence supports schools to:

  • allocate time and resources
  • increase awareness and responsiveness in the school
  • monitor incidents and outcomes
  • improve school safety
  • support changes in social norms.

The school handbook (PDF 554K) provided as part of the Mates & Dates programme details how your school can create a whole school approach for preventing violence.

External resources

Family Planning (external site) produces free posters and resources for teenage audiences. Along with promoting safe sex, they also address sexual violence, particularly their It’s About Mana series.

Rape Prevention Education (external site) has information about sexual violence and safety.

The It’s Not OK resources (external site) campaign produces a range of posters and resources to prevent family violence.

For more information about Mates & Dates email us at matesanddates@acc.co.nz.

Updated: 26 February 2016

Reviewed: 16 February 2016