Guidance for talking to people

Having a conversation with someone you are concerned about can provide a valuable opportunity to further investigate your concerns and gain an greater understanding of their vulnerability and risk of being harmed.

Before speaking to someone you must ensure that it is safe to to so. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • are you confident that speaking to the person will not put them, or others, at increased risk of harm?
  • are you able to speak to them in a safe, calm and quiet place, away from anyone who may be exploiting, abusing or harming them?
  • are you able to speak to them alone? This includes away from family, friends or acquaintances  – anyone who the person is in contact with could potentially be harming or exploiting them.

If it is safe to do so, try to converse with the person about the things that are concerning you. When having this conversation, please bear in mind the following points:
Ensure that you have addressed any communication needs that they may have –  would it be helpful to use pictures or images to explain what you are saying? Are you speaking loud enough for them to hear you? Would it be helpful to have an interpreter? If so, this should be an independent advocate who is not a family member, friend or acquaintance.

Tell them that you are concerned and that you are here to help them. Voice your concerns in an appropriate and sensitive way – it may be better, for example, to gradually tell them about your concerns than to disclose these all at once. You may wish to start with one concern (for example over an injury they have sustained, or over a time when they have gone missing) and give them the chance to talk about this before raising other concerns.

Be aware of your words, tone of voice and body language – try to remain calm, neutral and supportive throughout. Try to foster an atmosphere of trust, understanding and respect. Your demeanor can determine whether someone chooses to disclose information about their experiences and engages with support.

Avoid being accusatory, judgmental or implying that the person holds blame or responsibility – this is especially important because victims of exploitation often blame themselves for what has happened.

Avoid ‘yes/no’ questions, and avoid imposing your perspective of the situation on them. Instead use open-ended questions to encourage them to converse with you.

Allow them space to tell their story without interruption, but also be accepting if they do not wish to speak about something. Avoid pressuring them into saying something that they are reluctant to disclose.

Be patient – it may take a while for someone to respond, especially if they are struggling with whether to make a disclosure, are trying to order their thoughts, or trying to remember a past experience. Give them time and refrain from interrupting the silence or moving onto another question.

Avoid assuming things about the person through what they say, how they behave or from your initial concerns. Instead base your view of the situation on an informed understanding of what they say and how they say this. This involves valuing what they have disclosed, but also being aware that they may not have told the whole story, and may not have given a wholly accurate account of events.

Avoid making promises that you cannot keep – for example promising to keep secret what the person has disclosed.

Maintain a professionally curious and respectfully uncertain approach throughout your conversation.

Sometimes people feel that professionals do not listen to them, or understand the significance of the information they disclose, so always take everything that you are told seriously and make this clear to the person.

Be mindful that people are unlikely to fully, or even partially, disclose what is happening. It can be hugely challenging for them to do so, not least because of the fear that the perpetrators of their exploitation may find out, and due to feelings of self-blame and self-shame. They may also feel that nothing can be done to help them out of their situation, and so believe that disclosing information is pointless.

Even if someone has not disclosed much information, your conversation with them will have been of value. It will have given them an indication that people do care about them and want to help. If they have been unaware that they are being exploited or groomed, it may have caused them to recognise that those around them are causing them harm. It may also have helped to challenge their belief that the situation cannot change, and that they are unworthy of help and support. Importantly, due to your actions they may feel more able to disclose information to someone else at another time.

If you are still concerned about someone after talking to them, it is important that you act on your concerns. The following page will provide you with support for how to do so: