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What do I do if a child says they have been sexually abused
What Can I Do If a Child Has Been Sexually Abused?
How Should I Respond?
What Should I Say?
One of the most important things a parent can do is respond in a calm and matter-of-fact manner.
Listen to the words and feelings of the child and observe his or her body language.
Believe the child - children rarely lie about sexual abuse.
If you don't have enough information about what is going on, it is a good idea to ask questions and let the child know you are someone they can safely talk to about this issue.
Be sure you do not ask leading questions.
What is most important for you as someone who cares about the child is to say that no matter what happened or what they say, you will still love them.
Also take the time to reassure the child that he or she has done nothing wrong.
Let the child know that you will do whatever you can to keep him or her safe.
Many people are tempted to handle the disclosure on their own. However, there are resources throughout the country that can help a family through this difficult situation.
Furthermore, the sexual abuse of children is against the law. It is therefore important to Report it & to seek professional help and to not do this alone. By taking action you may reduce the risk of others in your community or family from being sexually abused.
Is Healing from Sexual Abuse Possible? Yes, healing from child sexual abuse is possible.
The lives of children who have been sexually abused will be forever changed, but we have many wonderful examples of children healing from the child abuse and living out caring and productive lives. Some children may be ready to talk about the abuse and deal with it soon after it happened. Others may need to move more slowly, gradually testing the safety of addressing the issues that arise.
Children do best with a combination of love from caregivers and support from a counselor with special training to work with children who have experienced sexual trauma.
Dealing with Sexual Abuse: Getting Help
Dealing with Sexual Abuse: Getting Help
The first step in getting help for yourself and your child is reporting the abuse to the police or your local Child Protective Services (CPS) department. As scary as it might seem to call CPS, you need to remember that case workers are specifically trained to deal with abuse situations and to make sure that your child is safe and gets appropriate help. You can also call a free reporting hotline. Sexual abuse is a crime in all 50 states, and many states have an additional law that requires reporting. Report the abuse even if the offender is a child or an adolescent. If you do not, the offender is left free to abuse other children.
Once a report is made, a team of people will work with you and your child. The team usually includes:
A CPS case worker who will investigate the report, make sure your child is safe, and arrange support, medical care (if needed), and counseling.
A doctor who will examine your child.
Police officers who will investigate, collect evidence, prepare the case, and make any necessary arrests.
A lawyer for the county where the abuse happened, who will handle the case through the criminal justice system.
A counselor for your child.
After the initial report, there are often two parallel processes that begin: the legal process to investigate the case and the healing process that your child and family will go through.
Dealing with the Legal Process
You will have little control over the legal process. It may feel frustrating and will often move more slowly than you wish. Your most important role will be to support your child during the investigation. And keep in mind that even if the police and district attorney decide not to pursue legal prosecution, that does not mean that the abuse did not occur or that your child does not need help.
Dealing with the Healing Process
You do have control within the healing process. Make sure that your child and family get help. You may feel tempted to cut yourself off from outside help because of fear, embarrassment, or a desire for the whole situation to go away and for normalcy to return. However, even if your child doesn’t show signs of distress, the effects of the trauma will not resolve by themselves. For full recovery for your child and your family, you need to discuss what happened with a trained professional. A child has the greatest likelihood of making a good recovery if:
Parents immediately get their child appropriate help.
Parents are supportive and strive to understand the healing process.
Parents get help and support for themselves.
Children who are not believed or who don’t receive help are more likely to have long-term problems with:
Trusting themselves and others.
Self-confidence due to unresolved guilt and shame.
Mental health issues ranging from mild depression to serious mental health problems.
Sexual/romantic relationships as an adolescent or adult.
Increased vulnerability to future social trauma.
Finding a Counselor for Your Child
A counselor or therapist is a professional who is specifically trained to help with emotional difficulties, personal problems, and mental health issues. Choose a counselor with special training and experience in working with sexually abused children. This person should also be qualified, according to your state’s laws, to act as an expert witness if the case goes to trial. A counselor or therapist can:
Support your child through the investigative process.
Give you information about how to best support yourself, your child, and your family.
Help you understand the effects of sexual abuse on your child.
Help your child work through and recover from the experience.
Protecting and Supporting Your Child
After disclosure, the following guidelines can help you protect your child:
Do not allow your child to see the offender until after the investigation takes place. Even then, never force your child to see the offender or leave your child alone with the offender.
Continue to believe your child. Tell your child that he or she is okay and safe.
Be discrete about whom you tell. Ask the people you tell not to tell others. Encourage people who know about the abuse to treat your child in the same way they normally would.
Talk with a trusted friend or counselor about your feelings. Try not to discuss the abuse, your child, or your feelings about the abuse in front of your child or your other children. This can make children anxious and unnecessarily re-expose them to the trauma.
Your child’s counselor will help you understand the best ways to support your child through the healing process. Here are some general guidelines:
Keep home life as normal as possible. Children will feel safer if routines remain the same.
Help your child soothe him- or herself. Your child will need extra reassurance and comfort.
Realize that your child will be fearful. Reassure your child that this fear will get smaller with time.
Allow your child to talk about feelings and be sure to create opportunities for this to happen.Do not ignore sexualized behavior and play. Understand that this indicates continuing distress and should be stopped in a simple, matter-of-fact, and supportive way.
Expect difficult behavior and respond in a consistent, firm, but gentle manner.
Dealing with Consequences of Abuse
There will be decisions to make and work to do that will affect the whole family. In addition, you may need to deal with personal issues that arise.
If the offender is a family member or friend, decisions will need to be made about contact and visits, or even the continuation of the relationship. Seek help from your CPS case worker and any counselors involved with your family. They can help you think clearly about a decision.
If you have been sexually abused yourself, you may become overwhelmed with memories. It is important to get help from a counselor, especially if you have never sought counseling for the abuse or told anyone about it.
The more you are able to cope in a calm and thoughtful manner, the quicker your child will return to a sense of security and trust. The days, weeks, and months that follow the discovery of abuse can bring many challenges and some setbacks, but also opportunities to strengthen your family as you move together through the healing process.