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Part of: Telling someone about what happened

Setting up the conversation

Deciding how we want the conversation to go

If we’ve made the decision to share our story with someone — or if we’re just thinking about doing so — it can be helpful to prepare for the conversation in advance. Figuring out what we hope to achieve by disclosing our story and how we’d like to feel about it afterwards, can guide what we decide to say to a specific person.

For instance, if we’re telling a romantic partner, we may prefer to focus on the effects of our experience on our ability and desire to be intimate. Alternatively, if we’re speaking with colleagues hoping that they’ll avoid using triggering language in the workplace, we may offer a very brief explanation of our experience and spend more time describing the behavior we’d like them to model.

As part of this preparation, we may want to think about the “flow” of the conversation: would we prefer to tell our story and answer questions afterwards? Would it be better to have a more conversational discussion where the person we are speaking to leads the conversation by asking questions?

Thinking about what we’d like to say in advance can help make the moment of disclosure less stressful. If we’ve got a plan for what we’d like to share, we don’t have to worry about forgetting details (like dates, times and locations) or saying too much.

What’s the right medium for our conversation?

Conversations can take place in lots of different ways these days: online or offline, written or verbal. We have plenty of options when it comes to the format for our discussion. We’ve listed them below, ordered from least to most intimate.

  1. Declaring anonymously.

Sometimes, we want people to know our story, but we don’t want them to know that it is ours. In that case, finding justice for us may be choosing to share anonymously.

There are many ways survivors have found personal justice anonymously. In Mexico, survivors of violence have created “walls of shame” where they write their experiences and post them with the name the person or people responsible for harming them. In Pakistan, former and current students of a preparatory school took to social media to share examples of abuse at the hands of teachers. Survivors around the world contact journalists to tell their stories, asking them to go public on their behalf.

Depending on our circumstances, remaining anonymous may be our safest option, but we need to be careful about protecting our anonymity, especially if we decide to declare online. For more information on how to stay safe online, check out Chayn’s DIY online safety resource.

Remaining anonymous may also be essential if we are pursuing legal action. There have been cases where the practice of “naming and shaming” the accused has complicated the trial (or future trial). Moreover, depending on the country, individuals whose anonymity is compromised could also risk prosecution.

  1. Writing a letter (digital or physical)

Writing a letter by email or post is a great medium if we want to be able to control and revise our thoughts, include lots of details, and avoid dealing with the recipient's reaction in the moment. It’s also fantastic if we want to have proof or evidence of having shared our story with someone. On the flip side, we have to assume that what we say in a letter will live on forever and might be used in future legal proceedings. Be careful not to use statements that our future selves would find compromising. For example, try to use neutral language rather than curse words. And be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your records.

  1. Having a phone call

If we want to be able to have a private conversation, but talking face-to-face seems too intense, speaking over the phone is a great option. It creates a safe barrier between us and the person we are talking to, while allowing us to feel relatively connected. We also have the option to record the conversation for our records; remember that if we choose to do this, we should only do so once we have got permission from the person we are speaking to.

  1. Speaking face-to-face (on-screen or in-person)

Finally, we may decide that speaking face-to-face is the best option. It gives us a chance to connect deeply with the person we are speaking to and give them the best insight into our experience. We can do this on-screen (ideally via a secure application) or in-person. If we decide to have an in-person conversation, we should spend some time thinking about where we want the conversation to take place.

Choosing a location

When telling our stories in-person we want to pick the best location for us to feel the most at ease and comfortable. This is different for everyone: some of us would prefer a public location, and others a private location.


A public location can be anywhere from a park, to a busy restaurant or a small cosy cafe. Public locations can differ in how many people are nearby, so we want to consider what works best for us individually. For example, a busy public location could keep things more casual, and could be useful if we want to keep questions and reactions to a minimum. This type of location might also be useful if we are afraid the person we are sharing our story with might react badly. If afraid of this, consider bringing a trusted friend or having quick access to emergency numbers.


Some of us prefer to have this conversation at home, or home of the person we are disclosing to. This is better if we trust the person and decide to have a conversation in order to share thoughts and feelings. We might still decide to have another trusted person with us in case we are still concerned the person might react badly. We should always ensure we have access to emergency numbers in case we are alone and the conversation ends badly.

Once we have decided what we want to share, with whom and where, the next step is to ask that person to make time for a conversation. We don’t have to tell them what we’d like to talk about in advance. Simply saying, “there’s something important I’d like to talk to you about, are you free tomorrow evening?” would be enough. Propose a time and place that works best for you.

Preparing for their reaction

When telling our stories, we might have an image in our mind on how we want things to go. But there are some things we should prepare for as we can’t predict exactly what will happen.

We may consider how to respond to questions or comments. It’s always important to remember that questions do not always mean disrespect, sometimes people might not know how to react or ask surprising questions. We might want to respond with “the question you asked is upsetting/makes me feel uncomfortable” or “I’m not sure how to respond to that, can you give me a moment?”. It is valid if you don’t like the questions, and do not want to respond.

As we said before, the person we are telling might unfortunately have an unsupportive response. For example, they might become angry, or begin to blame us for what happened to us. If this happens, it is not our fault: it is not our job to manage the reactions of the people we tell. If we receive this kind of unsupportive response, we might want to end the conversation, as we will discuss next.

Changing our minds during the conversation

Telling our stories isn’t always easy and sometimes we might want to deviate from our original plan, or no longer feel comfortable disclosing. It is okay to change our minds. We can ask ourselves about what to do if, in the moment, we no longer want to discuss what has happened. Do we want to practice saying a simple phrase — “You know what? I don’t want to discuss this. I have to go.” — or begin the conversation with a warning about how we might react?

We might also simply want a break, a moment to gather our thoughts before continuing again. Saying things like “I need a moment, do you want to tell me about your day?” could help make the situation more comfortable. Whenever we are ready to discuss again we can communicate that.

We can also consider an exit strategy: how to end the discussion and what to do next. We might want to think about whether we would want to spend time with the person we disclosed to after the conversation. Sometimes we might plan fun things like shopping or going to the cinema, or we might simply want to be alone afterwards. The self-care section of this guide gives more details on this. Of course, it’s always possible we have changed our minds about what to do during or after the conversation. Saying things like “I don’t think I have it in me to go out today, would you mind staying in with me/letting me be alone for a while?” can help communicate this.