Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

What to do, if something happened?

When a person is confronted with a situation that is discriminatory, assaultive or violent for them, they can quickly feel perplexed and overwhelmed. Therefore, in this guide you will find some useful advice that can be helpful for affected persons in the situation itself, in the immediate aftermath of it, as well as in the period afterwards.

Since the spectrum of discriminatory, assaultive and violent situations is very broad, not all of the following recommendations may apply to every situation.

Information for people affected

In the situation


Tell the discriminating/assaulting person clearly that their behavior is unwanted and inappropriate and what reaction you would like to see - e.g. with a demand to stop the behavior and an apology. Possible phrases include:

  • "This is too personal for me, I'm not going to answer that. Do not ask me such questions.",
  • "I find your statement discriminatory and would like you to apologize to me.",
  • "Your behavior violates the University's anti-discrimination policy, refrain from it."
  • "I am very uncomfortable with this situation and find you unprofessional. I will leave now."

If the behavior of the person discriminating against or harassing you goes unchallenged, there is a higher risk that the person will continue or even intensify that behavior in the future.

If it is not possible for you to reject the inappropriate behavior in the situation, this can also be done later, e.g. in writing (provided the person's contact details are known).

Get support!

You are not alone in the situation with the exercising person? Take advantage of this! Make bystanders aware of your situation. They can support you. Talk to people who can witness the situation and get their contact details so that you can reach them if you need their statements later. It may also be possible to alert available security personnel or the police.

Leave the situation.

Leave situations that are perceived as threatening as quickly as possible and without having to justify your departure. Do not force yourself to endure situations that are noticeably not good for you. It doesn't have to become dangerous for you to have the right to leave. Your own safety should always be a priority.

Important Notice:

If you are not capable of any of the aforementioned interventions in the situation, it is not unusual and nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. In discriminatory, harassing, or violent situations, individuals are often caught off guard, overwhelmed, or frozen in place. People often overestimate their ability to react. Often they only think of an appropriate reaction after the situation has already passed. Do not get angry with yourself. You reacted as well as you could at that moment.

Right after the situation

Seek protection!

Go to a safe place and, if possible, do not stay alone. It is best to contact someone you trust and talk to them about what happened. Tell only what you want to tell. You can also just ask your trusted person to be there and let them distract you.

Your confidant may feel overwhelmed if something bad has happened to you, so ask her to do specific things if possible, such as.

  • "I just want to switch off now. Can we watch a show together?"
  • "I want to get everything off my chest. Can you just listen?"

Take yourself seriously!

Take yourself and your feelings seriously. However you feel, this has its justification. Don't blame yourself. It is not your fault if someone discriminates against you, harasses you, or uses violence toward you - no matter what clothes you were wearing, for example, or whether you were intoxicated.

Be aware that there are people in your private environment and professional agencies that can support you. You do not have to handle this situation alone.

Document what happened!

As soon as you can, make a memory log to document what happened as accurately as possible. Write down all the facts you can think of: Date, time, exact location, people involved (if names are not known, people can be described), what was said, and what was done. This can be very important for further action, even if you are not at all sure now whether you want to take further action.

Keep evidence - for example, screenshots of emails or chat histories, or photos of property damage.

Although you certainly won't feel like it in the aftermath of a physical assault or attack, it can be extremely important to preserve injuries, damage, and marks as evidence. For example, you can take photos of your injuries as well as any damage or soiling to your clothing. In the forensic medical outpatient clinic of the University Hospital Halle   , injuries of victims of violence as well as traces on the body and clothing can be documented "court-proof" by specialized medical staff - independent of a report to the police and free of charge. In addition, the injuries can be assessed, forensic evidence can be secured, and samples can be taken for chemical-toxicological tests. The doctors are bound to professional secrecy. No information is passed on against the will of the person examined. The collected findings will be kept until retrieved and can later be used as evidence if you decide to press charges.

If you have doubts:

There may be multiple reasons why you doubt whether what happened to you was really discrimination, harassment, or violence, for example, because the discriminating/assaulting/violent person is a close person you like. Both discrimination and harassment and violence can also occur in close relationships. In fact, according to studies, a large percentage of sexual assaults occur at the hands of people in your personal or family circle, such as relationship partners or ex-partners. Even people you respect, like or are in a relationship with have no right to cross your boundaries!

Basically, take your feelings seriously. If you felt uncomfortable, suddenly very insecure, disrespected, humiliated, threatened, intimidated and/or cornered, felt that you could not safely set your own boundaries, felt ashamed or defiled and had your dignity violated, these are clear indications that you have experienced discrimination and/or an attack or assault.

To better assess the situation, you can also ask yourself how your counterpart behaved:

  • Did the behavior match the relationship you have with each other - e.g., did the person act appropriately for a* friend, a* lecturer, a* supervisor, or a stranger?
  • Did the other person seem honestly interested in how you were doing in the situation?
  • Were you treated the same as other people in similar situations?
  • Did the person ask for your consent before any sexual act occurred?
  • Did you signal your boundaries and was this respected?

If you can answer "no" to some or all of these questions, these are also strong indications that you experienced discrimination and/or a sexualized assault.

In the time after

The effects of discrimination or sexual harassment and violation for people affected are individual and dependent on what happened. Nevertheless, it is always a burdensome experience that can take a lot of energy and can influence your ability to study or work.

Possible effects are e.g.:

  • To feel bad, to be confused or insecure, if the incident was really sexual harassment or discrimination.
  • To worry about negative consequences, disbelief, lack of understanding, when talking about what had happened.
  • Particularly severe experiences can cause blackouts or memory loss, which allow your psyche to protect itself from stressful events.
  • To blame yourself for what happened
  • Frustration about not having resisted enough (people often underestimate how difficult it can be to fight back in an emergency situation)
  • To relativize the experienced transgressive behavior by saying to yourself that you are too sensitive.

For those reasons it can be difficult to turn to others. People affected tend to hold back experienced discrimination or sexual harassment and try to avoid further situations of that kind discreetly. Out of fear to encounter the discriminating or harassing person again, lectures or examinations can be avoided or the change of a mentor or university considered.

This effects the further study progress and often delays the graduation. Treating the happened as a taboo in turn has the effect for the perpetrators that their misbehavior remains invisible and that they don’t have to face consequences for their behavior. It can lead to them not even being aware that their behavior was inappropriate. For people affected, however, the experienced can have burdening consequences that not only occur temporary.

For example:

  • Insomnia, nightmares
  • Continuously thinking about what happened
  • To feel sick, headaches and stomach pain, nausea
  • Frequent anxiety und a sense of insecurity and threat
  • Reduced self-confidence
  • Feeling of sadness, disgust or anger
  • Increased distrust, nervousness and irritability
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Tiredness and listlessness
  • Lower levels of performance and poor outcomes in studies/ at work
  • Withdrawal from social activities and isolation
  • Distraction of higher activity as well as increased consumption of alcohol and drugs

Depending on the severity of the experienced, it can lead to prolonged exposure, traumatization, mental illnesses and physical diseases, as well as discontinuation of the studies or loss of employment, especially, if the experienced couldn’t be processed through appropriate support. Therefore it is important not to stay alone with what happened, but to seek support.

The following things can be useful to process what had happened:

  • To do things that are good for you
  • To get some rest, to be easy on yourself: you experienced something distressing and it is okay, if you are not a machine.
  • To seek support or assistance for your everyday life (e.g. of friends)
  • To consult a competent clinic/ counselling service
  • To visit a self-assertion or self-defense course (e.g. at university sports center)
  • To connect to people, who experienced similar things and to talk to each other (for example in a support group); Feelings can be shared and future reactions practiced
  • To actively stand against discrimination and sexual harassment e.g. by joining an existing group or to establish a new group
  • To consult a therapist in order to process the incident(s)
  • To file a report at university against the person that discriminated or harassed you
  • To file a personal or written complaint at the public prosecutor’s office or at the police and to press charges, if necessary.
    This may result in a deterrence or, best case, a penalty of the perpetrators and may be included in police statistics. At the same time it should be noted that the person reported will get to know, who has reported him*her. You are not obliged to file a complaint, but regarding several crimes the police must carry out investigations, even if there was no report filed – e.g. when causing actual bodily harm. You are not obliged to give your statements to the police, unless they are akin to summonses to the public prosecutor’s office.

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Information for witnesses

  • Don’t look away, if you have the feeling someone is discriminated or sexually harassed. Stay and send out a clear signal that you are aware of what happens.
  • Ask the person concerned, if everything is okay and offer help. Give your contact details, in order for the person to be able to reach out to you, if she*he wants. This way you can help the person concerned to understand the situation in the context of a violation of the individual rights.
  • If necessary, talk to the person that is behaving in a discriminatory or harassing manner and signalize, that his*her behavior is inappropriate.
  • Provide a testimony in case of complaints or accuses.
  • Act only with the approval of the person affected and do not think that you know better what are the needs of the person concerned. The needs of the person affected should be the center of attention and you should not take any action that she*he didn’t agree on.
  • You can also consult advice centers within or outside the university, but do not give out any personal information of the person concerned, if she*he did not mention that explicitly.

If a person affected seeks your support

Private support (e.g. amongst friends)

  • Listen carefully and try not to judge the heard
  • If a person affected by sexual harassment tells you about what had happened, it shows that the person trusts you. It is important to value that trust and to handle it confidentially. Take the person seriously in everything she*he tells you.
  • Ask the person, how you can support her*him and don’t act in any way that he*she doesn’t want. You can offer help and make suggestions, but you should also accept a refusal. The person experienced something that violated her*his self-determination that is why it is of particular importance that the next steps are characterized by an independent approach.
  • Possible forms of support can be listening, comforting, accompaniment to advice centers and support with issues concerning everyday life or search for information. Above all, support means to assist the person in her*his insecure process and pay attention to him*her favorably. In this context, it is important to accept the fact that you cannot directly have the right solutions to hand.
  • Take care of yourself and your boundaries. You don’t have to do anything, where you don’t feel comfortable yourself.
  • As a supporter, you can also consult advice centers within or outside the university, but do not give out any personal information of the person concerned, if she*he did not mention that explicitly.

Support in professional contexts (e.g. as an instructor)

  • Take the person seriously in everything, she*he tells you and take time for her*his concerns.
  • Make transparent, in what way the conversation can be confidential and what are your statutory duties.
  • Clarify, what form of support the person wants from you. That should be the focus. Don’t do anything against the will of the person.
  • Consider, if you are the right point of contact for the concern and make transparent, if you are not. It can require a lot of effort for the person seeking advice to tell what has happened. That’s why it should be avoided that she*he is sent to various departments unnecessarily in order to tell what has happened.
  • Inquire about the office responsible and offer to accompany the person seeking advice or to make an appointment for her*him, if necessary. You can find an overview of the different counseling services and support bodies of MLU and in the region here.
  • Only release information you are sure about and be transparent about knowledge gaps. You can also offer to obtain the current missing information by an upcoming appointment.
  • Offer further appointments according to possibility.
  • Recommendation: The anti-discrimination office of the federation published a guideline worth reading that includes a lot of useful information: “Consultation in case of discrimination: first steps and relaying.