What To Say & Do If…
Your very first task is to keep your natural reactions under control. Children need to know that you believe them, and will support them! They need reassurance that they are not causing your anger, disbelief, and sadness. Avoid saying things such as “Oh no… that can’t be” or “ I don’t believe it”. It’s especially wise to keep your violent reactions to yourself or to share them only with other supportive adults. Share this information with any other adults who have contact with your child. Do your best not to alert the alleged offender about the disclosure.
REMEMBER children rarely lie about sexual abuse. They’re more likely to deny it ever happened.
What to Say….
- I believe you and I’m glad you told me.
- I’m not sure what will happen next, but I’ll tell you when I know.
- This has happened to other kids. Nothing you did made it happen
- I’ll do my best to protect you now that I know.
- I am really upset, but I’m not upset with you!
Find people to support you who understand that you did not “allow” your child to be sexually abused. There may be some unpleasant surprises especially when the abuser is a close family friend or family member. Also be prepared in case your other children may have been abused. Sometimes siblings will blame the child who reported the abuse for the family disruption and stress.
Sometimes an extended family member is the first one to know of the abuse, and you as a parent may feel hurt. However, understand that your child may have been trying to protect your feelings.
A Few Don’ts
- Don’t restrict your child’s play or other normal activities any more than you must for your own peace of mind and his safety. If you keep him from playing outside, he may feel like he’s being punished.
- Don’t be afraid to let your child “cling” to you for a few days.
- Don’t ask probing questions about the details of the abuse, and don’t ask why he didn’t tell sooner.
- Don’t expect or tell the child to “forget it”.
You can call local police to make a report. If the abuser is an immediate relative, person of authority to your child, or a caretaker of your child, call the DCFS hotline at 1-800-252-2873.
Reassure your child he is not in any trouble. The interview will be in a safe friendly environment at the Child Advocacy Center. Explain to your child that the interviewer will ask him some questions and if he doesn’t understand what the interviewer asks, just say so. Encourage your child to simply answer the interviewer’s questions as well as she can.
What to Say to Others
Your child may feel embarrassed and/or responsible. If there is no publicity, you can decide whom you will tell. Let your child know which relatives or friends you will be discussing this with and let your child have some choice about who is told. Consider how your family members and friends will react to this stressful situation.
It may be helpful to share this information with your child’s teacher or school administrator. Details do not have to be shared, but your child may choose to tell her teacher and this would help the teacher to be observant and supportive of your child.
It is important to maintain your child’s sense of privacy, yet be careful not to make this experience a “dirty secret”. Your child should not be ashamed.
Keep in mind that most people know very little about sexual abuse and may say some hurtful things to you even though they mean well.
You can help your child practice how to respond to others questions and comments about the abuse. Examples: “What happened to me can happen to anyone.” “My mom/dad told me not to talk about it at school.” The Macon County Child Advocacy Center has a library of videos, books, and brochures that have more detailed information about the effects of abuse on children and their families. Please ask our director or case manager to share them with you.
How Parents Might Feel When Abuse is Reported
This report of abuse can affect your life in many ways, and it takes time to adjust. Some common thoughts and feelings parents may have are;
- Denial. Your first reaction may be to not believe or accept the fact that your child has been abused in some way, or you may believe it, but think no real harm was done.
- Anger. You may be angry with yourself for not protecting your child. You may be angry with the perpetrator. You may even be angry with your child. Be honest about your feelings and share them with a trusted person or the staff of the Center.
- Helplessness. You probably don’t know what to expect and feel that things are out of your control. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the investigators or the Center staff.
- Shock, Numbness, Repulsion. You may have memories of your own abuse which can lead to complicated reactions. You may need to seek counseling for yourself in order to be the best support you can be for your child.
- Guilt. You may feel it is your fault. The offender is responsible for the abuse, not you! What is done is done. Focus on what you can do to protect and help your child now.
- Hurt and Betrayal. It is normal to feel hurt at the loss of your child’s innocence. You may have lost a spouse, or partner if he or she was the offender. You may even have lost friends. It’s normal to grieve those losses.
- Sexual inadequacy. Some parents feel the offender turned to a child because their own relationship with the offender was inadequate. It’s important to know that adult sexual relationships do not affect a person’s likelihood to abuse children!
- Concerns about money. If the alleged offender is the breadwinner, you may be worried about the loss of income. The Center staff will find programs available to help you and if appropriate assist with victim’s compensation claims.
- Fear of Violence. You may fear the offender or his family members will hurt you or your child. There are domestic violence programs and legal assistance available to you. Share your concerns with investigators and Center staff.
- Fear of drug or alcohol abuse. You may be afraid that your or your child will abuse drugs or alcohol because of the stress. Don’t hesitate to contact professional help.