Perhaps one of the most devastating things that can happen to a child is sexual abuse. To make it even more traumatic, 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way with 68 percent being family members (Childhelp, 2010). So what do you do if your child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused?
First and foremost, understand that you and your child are not to blame. As a parent, you may have feelings of guilt, blaming yourself for not protecting your child. This is normal, but must be dismissed. Your child will most likely feel they are to blame as well. The sooner they understand they had no control over the situation, the better. The blame lies solely on the perpetrator and should never be put on anyone else. Second, it is imperative that your child feel safe. When a child discloses sexual abuse to a parent, there must be a sense of trust and support.
How a parent or caregiver reacts to being told that their child has been sexually abused will determine how the child proceeds with his or her claim. If the reaction is one of sadness, support, and comfort, then the child knows they can be open about what happened. In contrast, if the reaction is cold, hostile, and doubtful, then the child will most certainly clam up and be silent. Some things to keep in mind if you find yourself this situation are:
Remain calm~ anger, fear, and frustration are all normal emotions, but children learn from adults. Be supportive and open, but do not lose control. You can show your emotions in a healthy way. Letting the child see that you are sad is perfectly fine; in fact it is encouraged. However, going into a rage will only frighten a child and may cause him or her to withdrawal.
Believe what your child tells you~ children seldom make up accounts of sexual abuse. Keep in mind that depending on the child’s age, the language they use will vary. For instance, a four-year-old may describe the abuse in terms that may not make complete sense to you. An example would be using the word “pee pee” for semen. Nevertheless, do not doubt your child; they need you to believe and support them. Never, ever, accuse them of any wrong doing.
Reassure you child~ make it abundantly clear that the abuse is NOT their fault. Let them know that they did the right thing by telling you what happened and that you are glad they told you. Remember that the blame should always be on the abuser.
Seek immediate help~ this is a crime and needs to be reported. You can call your local police station, Child Protection Services, National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453), Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE, or 911. Talking to a pastor or priest may also be helpful, in that they often have connections within the community and can lend moral and spiritual support. By reaching out for help, you not only begin the healing process, you also reiterate to your child that you believe them and are doing what you can to protect them.
Explain what will happen next~ keep your child informed. This will reassure them that they did the right thing by coming forth and that they can trust you and others involved in the case. The last thing your child needs right now are surprises. They should be informed that they will need to talk to others about the abuse, but only when it is necessary, and only if they feel comfortable with talking about it.
Do not pressure your child to talk~ it is extremely important that you let your child lead in the dialog that is exchanged between the both of you. Never coerce or probe with questions. This can cause more damage than good and could also jeopardize the case in a court of law. Most child advocacy agencies cannot even ask direct questions about the abuse in fear that it will appear the child was “led” in his or her claims. The child must tell their account of what happened.
Get into counseling as soon as possible~ what has happened to your child, has also had an impact on you and possibly other family members. This is no time to “go it alone.” Seek professional help for yourself and your child so that you both can heal! If you belong to a church, seek additional counseling from your minister other qualified staff. DO NOT RETREAT! Keep yourself and your child in fellowship with friends and family.
Once a child opens up about sexual abuse and sees how it affects others, it is common for the child to recant their claim. This is completely normal and should not be taken at face value. If a child claims that they were abused, then they most definitely were. The reason they may recant is simply because of fear, shame, guilt, denial, or having a confused sense of their relationship with the abuser.
In order to minimize the psychological damage that sexual abuse can have, it is of the utmost importance that professional help be provided immediately. The emotions that a victim experience can be so intense that they may not know how to cope. With the guidance of a professional and the support of family and friends, healing and recovery can take place.
Childhelp (2010). National child abuse statistics. Retrieved August 12, 2010 m from http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics