We can all remember times when we have been concerned about something but have been too scared to say something. As children, we may have been scared of our parents or teachers, and as adults, we may still worry about our superiors’ responses. In our cultures some people may be ‘above reproach’ or seen as worthy of our respect simply for being older, better educated, or having a higher social or professional status. 

Allowing people to speak up 

Effective safeguarding means that we rely on everyone in our organisation to act as eyes and ears – all our youth workers, staff and volunteers are responsible for protecting the most vulnerable. We recognise that they will see things that organisation leaders will not, and we encourage them to speak up about their concerns. 

Encouraging people to speak up

Here are five ideas that you can use in your organisation – in your inductions for staff and volunteers, for example, in posters and in the way you talk about safeguarding in your organisation. 

  • We must all stand up for those people who can’t speak up for themselves.
  • Always know that you are right to speak up if you’re worried that someone is harming or abusing someone else. It’s not the same as being disrespectful or ‘telling tales’.
  • It is normal to worry that if you report someone for doing something wrong, you could be causing trouble and upset for that person – they could even lose their job or status. However, doing nothing could mean that you are hurting many more people – it is rare that an abuser is only hurting one person. 
  • You may be worried for another reason – for example, the person you think is an abuser or putting a young person at risk is fundamental to your organisation’s work. They could be the founder or the only person with a certain skill or external connection. Again, if they are putting young women and children at risk you need to consider that the harm they could do to others could massively outweigh the damage to your organisation. 
  • If you speak up, your organisation will protect you and ensure you’re not harmed or criticised for it.

How will you protect others who speak up?

It’s important that those who speak up are protected, but what does this mean in practice? How can you create environments where people are not scared of speaking up against people, especially those with more power and influence? Here are some ideas: 

  • Make sure that staff and volunteers know to encourage each other to report suspected abuse according to procedures, and not just to ‘gossip’ amongst themselves.
  • When they report, always make sure when they speak up it feels like they’re being listened to and supported.
  • Don’t promise to keep the information confidential between you and them – they may need to speak to the police or someone else to ensure the necessary action can be taken.
  • Refer to and follow your organisation’s policy and procedures to ensure information is only shared with people who need it and have the right to know.
  • Do not go to the person who has been accused. This could make the situation much worse. 
  • If the reporting person doesn’t give their consent, and you are worried that someone is at risk of harm or being harmed, you must take action. You should try to protect the identity of the person who has reported the abuse. 
  • Tell the person responsible for safeguarding in your organisation about any concerns so they can decide what the next steps are – this should reassure you.
  • Write a clear statement of what you have been told, seen, or heard – use the template that your organisation has developed to avoid guessing what to include or not to include.
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