Research on peer support for young people affected by sexual violence

Date: 10th July 2020
Category: Equal protection from violence


A study conducting interviews with 25 specialist organisations working with young people affected by sexual violence across Europe and North America has identified the benefits of peer support initiatives and challenges faced when implementing these initiatives.

Some of the key benefits to peer support include:

  • Peers often play a significant role in supporting young people who have experienced sexual violence. For example, young people routinely disclose information about sexual abuse to friends.
  • The primary role of peer support initiatives in the field of sexual violence is to provide emotional and social support to young people. This support can be complementary to the support provided by traditional mainstream services.
  • Providing support to others may be beneficial for peer supporters by helping them to develop self-empathy, reframe negative experiences and build confidence and skills.
  • Organisations may benefit from involving peer supporters in their services as this can lead to better engagement and uptake of support.

Some of the key challenges when using peer support initiatives include:

  • Finding the ‘right’ people to become peer mentors
  • There is a potential to be ‘triggered’ from hearing about others’ experiences of sexual violence or through the expectation to share personal experiences. It is therefore vital that peer supporters are given continuous support to help them understand and navigate difficult issues and circumstances.
  • Identifying boundaries is a challenge that peer supporters may experience, such as:
    • Knowing how much to share about their own experiences.
    • Understanding their role as one of supporter rather than professional counsellor or therapist.
    • Recognising the limits of what they can change or fix for a young person.
    • Balancing being a ‘confidante’ and friend to a young person with safeguarding responsibilities.

Read a summary of the research here

Read briefing paper one, two, three and four

Listen to a short podcast about the study here