In today's final post in this series, we're going to talk about how to react and offer support should your child or some other child disclose abuse.
Make a Plan: Learn where to go, whom to call, and how to react.*
If your child breaks and arm or runs a high fever, you know to stay calm and where to see help because you've mentally prepared yourself. Reacting to child sexual abuse is the same. Your reactions have a powerful influence on vulnerable children, so be prepared! Know the number to contact in your city, county, or state regarding reporting abuse of minors.
A key to a child victim's prognosis is how well a trusted family member reacts to disclosure.
When you react to disclosure with anger, disbelief, or out of control emotions the response of a child may be to:
- Change their story even though abuse is still occurring
- Feel more guilt & shame
- Change their account if there are too many probing questions
Questions/comments to avoid:
- "Why didn't you tell me before now?"
- "Did you tell the abuser 'no,' scream, run" etc.
- "So-and-so would never do that!"
- "You must have done something to cause this"
Offer Reassurance and Support:
Think through your response before you suspect abuse. In doing so, you'll be able to respond in a more supportive, calm, and helpful manner.
- Believe child and make sure they know it.
- Praise the child's courage and thank them for telling you.
- Tell them this was not their fault.
- Encourage child to talk but don't ask leading questions or try to elicit too much detail. Use open-ended questions such as "what happened next?"
- Assure child that it's YOUR responsibility to protect him or her and that you'll do all you can.
- Report or take action in all cases of suspected abuse inside or outside the immediate family. Don't try to handle yourself!
- Don't panic. Sexually abused children who are believed, receive support and psychological help can and do heal.
- Seek the help of a professional who is trained to interview the child about sexual abuse. Professional guidance could be critical to the child's healing and to any criminal prosecution.
- Contact National Children's Alliance at 1-800-239-9950 or National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD for information or to talk to staff specifically trained to deal with suspected child sexual abuse.
Finally, I will leave you with two quotes. The first, I quoted in the beginning of this series from Dr. Jim Hopper of Harvard:
"It's so important that adults take responsibility for this [reporting suspected abuse], so that it doesn't depend on the courage of the child."
The second quote is from Jesus of Nazareth:
“But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones [children] who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone[a] were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea! Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes." Matthew 18:6-7 (HCSB)