Responding to

Sexual Harassment

1. Equip Yourself with Knowledge

You can recognise harassment but that doesn’t mean you can respond to it yet. Empowering yourself with knowledge is the first step to being able to respond effectively. There’s a whole range of online resources and stories to read online, besides the information already on

our website.

Some resources allow you to read:

2. Undergo Training

Sign up for workshops actively. Consider looking for mental health workshops, panel discussions and awareness events that could provide new perspectives to your understanding. Self-defense workshops could empower your with the physical knowledge of fighting back.


Sexual Assault Care Centre’s First Responder Training is a valuable training that you can sign up for. They’re hosted monthly but the sign-up link for January is still pending.  In this training, it helps familiarise participants with trauma reactions and symptoms to better contribute to a survivor’s well-being. Your response is vital to the survivor on their journey to recover, so learn what the appropriate ways to respond are.

3. Have Conversations

Having conversations about harassment is crucial to developing a holistic view of such a complex social problem. It can help you and the people around you be more prepared in making sense of a situation more efficiently. However, it may also be sensitive and draining.


Here’s how you can have a respectful conversation-

i. Drawing boundaries

It’s always important to know where the lines are and never attempt to toe it. If you’re uncomfortable discussing about a certain aspect, bring it up in the beginning and if the other parties are unwilling to respect that, then there’s no conversation to be had.

ii. Active listening

It’s common to just hear but not listen. Don’t be doing anything but listening to what the other has to say and trying to understand it from their perspective. Listen for their meaning and intent, instead of silently thinking of your own.

iii. Holding back 

Some things don’t have to be said. It can be said at the next conversation or never at all. Be mindful of others’ emotions and body language. It’s not about who’s right or wrong. It’s about respecting someone else as a fellow human being.

iv. Mind your

internalised biases

Don’t judge immediately. Your first thoughts reflect the internalised biasness you hold in the world, but your second thoughts reflect the kind of person you want to work towards being. Recognising that can help you lose your bias and be open to others’ experiences and feelings.

4. Respond

It’s easier said than done.


In the moment, it’s possible that you can freeze up, give in and hope you can endure it. It’s never your responsibility to prevent an attack, nor will it ever be your fault. However, the smallest of actions could thwart an attempt. While we continue to take actions to change the social landscape and put the blame where it should be: on the perpetrators, we can empower ourselves to respond and take control of the situation.


If you’re in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, listen to yourself. You know best. Maybe it’s a friendly hand that strayed a little into an intimate territory or a comment on your body tossed out as a joke, and you don’t want to be seen as someone who overreacts, so you laugh and play along. Far too often have we compromised and accepted things that are unacceptable. 


You don’t have to accept it. Subtle responses can show make a marked difference.

There is comprehensive information on how to say ‘no’ or how to express your discomfort in the content of ‘recognising harassment’.

Physiologically when you’re being assaulted, there are hormones secreted during this traumatic experience that impairs your ability to think rationally. There are also hormones that cause your emotions to be blunted and hormones that cause your body to literally freeze and be immobile. You can read more here


You can’t control what happens during an assault. These are automatic responses that your body takes, so it’s never the survivor’s fault. 


What you can control are the incidents before an assault. Learn to say ‘no’ or express your discomfort. Remove yourself from a situation that you think seems unsafe. Have conversations about harassment - be able to recognise it and then you’ll be able to respond to it.


If you have been or know someone who has been assaulted or harassed, here’s what you should do.

If something seems off or feels wrong, trust yourself. Step in.


Bystander intervention can change things drastically. 

5. Acknowledge

Your Experiences

Acknowledge your experiences


Take as long as you need to come to terms with what happened. Memory is malleable but the body remembers. It takes the coping strategies it learnt during traumatic experiences and applies it to future experiences. You might not know why you’re reacting this way, but your body does.


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is an interesting read on how the body remembers trauma and how it impacts you past the actual traumatic experience.


You can try to forget it, will it away or lock it in a small part of yourself and throw the key away. It’s much harder to acknowledge it happened and that you let it happen. But you didn’t. The incident is never your fault. It wasn’t what you were wearing. It wasn’t the ‘signals’ you think you were giving. It wasn’t you. 


Shame and guilt often follows a survivor, even if you intellectually know that it’s not you. Acknowledge what happened and take control back. You’re on a journey of healing yourself. It’s long and arduous but it’s worth it.

Read more on recovering here


Here are some healthy coping strategies:

  • Spend time with people who can offer you support. You don’t have to talk about it to them yet. Let them know you need their comfort and respect their boundaries too if they are unable to offer you the comfort you need.

  • Remind yourself that you are alive and you survived the assault.

  • Count the small and big things that you accomplish. Going to a meeting is an accomplishment but so is showering.

  • Take care of yourself. You need this now more than ever. 

  • Look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself positive reinforcement. It might feel silly at first but keep at it until it feels empowering. Keep at it until you believe it.

  • Avoid using alcohol, drugs, or binge-eating to cope. It is more likely to make you feel worse in the long run.

  • Settle into a routine for yourself.

  • Start exercising or meditating.


If you get flashbacks of the incident, here’s what you can do: (adapted from King’s College Hospital’s self-help guide for survivors of rape and sexual assault

  • Stop what you are doing.

  • Do something that will help you relax, such as taking a few deep breaths, listening to calming music.

  • Try to go somewhere where you feel safe and secure.

  • Think about writing down what happened in the flashback. Although this can be painful, it can also help ‘get it out’, and is a helpful way of processing what happened to you.

  • Remind yourself: flashbacks are completely normal responses to an abnormal event.

  • Try grounding yourself in the present by using your five senses. You can describe what you see, hear, smell, touch or taste. Let yourself know that you’re not in danger and a flashback of the incident can’t physically hurt you.

6. Talk about it

Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted that you are a survivor, a lot more power falls into your hands. You can and should talk more about it. Each time you talk about it, it gets a little easier. Having conversations is helpful for you and others.

Talking and working it through your system, you can better rationalise an incident and think about how you could have responded. In the unfortunate case that you find yourself in a harassment situation, you are able to recognise it and better respond as you’ve thought and talked about it before.

It’s a period of vulnerability for you and it might feel that you’re alone. Recognise that you’re not alone and you can establish a support system.


You can establish a support system:


Oprah has an informational article with steps for building a supportive community.

You’re not alone in this.

7. Establish your support

8. Report

You should never feel obligated to report a case to the police and before you do so, you should know what you’re essentially signing up for. It’s not a short and breezy process. It can get long, draggy, and tiring. 


No one will be able to tell you if it’s ‘worth it’ to report your harassment to the police but yourself. Just ensure that you’ll be able to live comfortably with the decision you make.


The Sexual Assault Care Centre has a comprehensive page on what happens when you report a case to the police.  


If you’re a student and this happened in school, you can also consider reaching out to your school’s student affairs office. While harassment is a crime, the school can offer support and put sanctions in place to keep you safe while you deliberate your future options.

For NTU Students

For NUS Students

Firstly, contact the Victim Care Unit (VCU) as this

is the dedicated unit to handling sexual misconduct cases in NUS. Operating hours: Mon - Fri, 9am - 5pm

6601 4000 *after operating hours, only for emergencies


For 24-hr help, contact Campus Security

Kent Ridge Campus Hotline: 6874 1616

UTOWN Hotline: 6601 2004

Bukit Timah Campus Hotline: 6516 3636 


For student group support, contact

Students for a Safer NUS 

Contact the Student Affairs Office (SAO) to report the case to them. 

6790 6340


This is what’s going to happen:

  1. They will assign you a gender-matched officer to provide first-responder support to you. 

  2. At the onset of the incident, you will be encouraged to submit an account of the incident in the form of a statement. If you are not in the condition to provide the statement, the assigned SAO officer will assist to record your statement and seek your approval before submitting the statement.

  3. For the alleged perpetrator, SAO will also assign a gender-matched officer to provide necessary support.

  4. All relevant stakeholders are involved in investigating the case as necessary and you will be informed about who will be contacted and for what purposes.

  5. SAO then follows up with you on any potential next steps, including making a police report, seeking counselling, reallocation of housing, etc.

  6. Although the time it takes to handle each case differs on a case-by-case basis, SAO will respond to the first point of contact by you within one working day.

  7. If you were to face a case of harassment by another student outside of campus location, the school would still take all possible steps to help you cope and to deal with the situation. However, the school will not do a location investigation as that is under the purview of the police.

In all situations, the school prioritises the safety and wellbeing of both you and the alleged perpetrator and provides the necessary support to both parties while maintaining the fair stance that the alleged perpetrator is innocent until proven guilty.
You can read more on NTU’s policy on Campus Community Approach to Student Health and Wellbeing.

For SMU Students

Contact Voices@SMU for cases pertaining to discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct or any form of assault/violence. 

For wellbeing support, contact
Mrs Wong Kwok Leong Student Wellness Centre (MWKLSWC) 

6828 0786

For assistance beyond the operating hours of Voices@SMU or Mrs Wong Kwok Leong Student Wellness Centre (MWKLSWC), contact the 24-hr helpline of Campus Security 
6838 0343


For SUSS Students

Contact Student Support if you have experienced

an incident of sexual misconduct.

6248 9111


If you feel unsafe on campus, contact Campus Security 

6248 9100

9. Process it

on your own terms

Harassment or assault can cause trauma and leave both physical and emotional wounds. You might still be bleeding, you might have cauterised it into a scar, or you might have stuck a plaster over it and hoped for the best. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It’s important to recognise that everyone is on a different healing journey.

Lean In has a fantastic guide on how you can have a conversation with a group or a single someone you trust. It teaches you the psychological effects of harassment and will help you brainstorm strategies for coping. 


It does invite you to share difficult experiences and you cannot control the responses that you’ll receive. It’s essential that everyone in the conversation knows how to respond sensitively and actively listen to the person sharing. You can read Lean In’s guide on how to talk about sexual harassment that gives good tips about how to listen and respond well in a tough conversation like sexual harassment.


Adapted from Lean In’s guide, here’s how you can have a conversation about your experiences to better process it and grow from it. Take from it whatever that works for you. You do not have to finish all the steps in one day and this is a conversation that can be paused and continued on another day.


1. Write about your story

Write about your harassment experience for fifteen minutes. Write the plain facts, then write about how you felt at the time and how you feel now. Then reflect on your feelings and write down your reflections. Writing down the experience will help to give you distance from the trauma and diminish its power. You might feel upset while doing this but that is normal and to be expected. You should feel less and less upset with each time you write it down.


2. Learn the effects of harassment and protect yourself from them

Review what sexual harassment is and learn terms for the psychological harms it can cause. Identify and reflect on your experiences before integrating the key concepts into the story you’ve written in step 1.


3. Share your experiences

Share your story. It will be difficult and do not feel obligated to finish the entire story. It’s okay to stop and say, “It’s hard for me to talk about this now.” and then reschedule the conversation for another time. Give yourself ample time.


4. Brainstorm self-care strategies 

Sexual harassment can affect you emotionally and physically, making it even more crucial for you to take care of your mental and physical health. Do a self-care inventory by thinking about a time when you felt physically and emotionally healthy. Consider the activities that you were doing back then and share these in the conversation. You can consider incorporating the effective ones in your current routine to help you heal.


5. One Action

Close the conversation by committing to a “One Action”—one concrete thing you’re going to do after leaving this conversation. For example, you can identify the self-care activity that you’d like to incorporate into your daily routine. Share it in the conversation by saying “I’ll commit to doing ____ for self-care.” While this is to build some form of accountability so that you’ll stay committed, it’s imperative that you are lenient with yourself. Healing is not an easy process and there are ups and downs on this journey. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about not being able to commit to what you’ve set for yourself. Just evaluate if you’ve set a realistic expectation and review your commitment.

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