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One of the scariest and most difficult things to endure as a parent is discovering that your child has been sexually abused. As a parent, you’re probably having multiple feelings such as anger, hurt, pain, helplessness, and loss of control. The last thing you want for your child is to be hurt, especially at the hands of someone who was assumed to be trusted. Often times parents are uncertain as to what the next steps are when it comes to taking action once their child discloses sexual abuse. Below are suggestions and tips that parents could take to help their child after a disclosure of sexual abuse.
• Believe Your Child: It is imperative that parents believe their children when they initially disclose sexual abuse. It is estimated that 92% of children who disclose sexual abuse are telling the truth. Not believing or negating what your child has stated can add more trauma to what was already experienced. This could lead emotional and behavioral issues in the future, and it continues to keep them in danger of the individual hurting them again.
• It is Not Their Fault: It is essential that the child knows that the abuse was not their fault, and that they are not wrong for disclosing. Parents should acknowledge the bravery that it took to disclose, and express being proud of them for doing so. Children often times are afraid and ashamed of the sexual abuse endured and sometimes they also blame themselves.
• Take Action and Use Your Resources: Call your local child protective services and report what has been disclosed by your child. Necessary action needs to take place to remove the offender (which is 90% of the time a family member or friend) from the child at all costs. It is understandable that parents will become very irate and may want to take matters into their own hands, however it is imperative to allow the law and child protective services to do their jobs.
• Schedule an Appointment with a Medical Doctor to Conduct a Physical Exam: I add that it is very important that the child go to a doctor who is knowledgeable about sexual abuse and is educated on how to give a proper exam for children who have been sexually abused. This is to ensure that no physical harm or damage has occurred.
• Find a Mental Health Professional: Find a mental health therapist that has an expertise in sexual abuse and assault. Therapy could help your child to process the trauma that has been experienced. It is important for the parents to also seek counseling for themselves individually, and as a family. It is key for both the child and the parent(s) to have the space to disclose and share their thoughts and feelings surrounding the sexual abuse and the impact it has on the child, and the entire family.
• Educate, Educate, Educate: Often time’s children are confused about the sexual abuse, especially if it was a close family member or friend. They have confused feelings of love for the person and at the same time, they are trying to make sense out of what happened. They may also have the misconception that the offender touches them in that way because they love them; so their concept of love may also become skewed. Furthermore, it may be natural that the child may still want to be around the offender. Secondly, it is imperative for children to know about their bodies. They need to understand when touch is appropriate and when it’s inappropriate. Children who have been sexually abused may have inappropriate boundaries and may not understand the differences between appropriate and inappropriate touch. They also have to know their own personal boundaries. In my work with children who have been sexually abused, I’ve told them that it’s not okay for anyone to touch them where their underwear would cover them unless it’s to get them clean or to make sure they’re healthy.
These are a few suggestions and tips that could be helpful for parents of children who have disclosed sexual abuse. Remember to take action and do not push things “under the rug” when there is a disclosure. Make it explicit that you are there for them, and you want to ensure that they get the help, love, and support they need.