I love you.
What has happened is NOT your fault.
I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.
If you discover your child is being sexually abused, these are the most important messages you need to make sure they know, both from your words and your actions. Your child needs to be in a safe, blame-free, judgment free environment. But that means as the parent, you must control your emotions.
That’s not to say you won’t experience a wide range of emotions. There’s no right way to react after you discover your child was sexually abused. Some of the most common reactions include:
- Anger at the abuser, or even anger at your child for either hiding the abuse or revealing it. As tough as this news is, remember: It’s NOT your child’s fault.
- Fear that the abuser may find a way to hurt your child and your family again.
- Anxiety about the right way to proceed, especially if you have any kind of relationship with the abuser.
- Shock that something like this actually happened to your child.
- Sadness for your child, your family or even yourself.
All of these reactions are normal, and none are more “right” than any other.How Can I Control My Emotions for the Sake of My Child?
This is one of the toughest questions to answer, because every person is different. Think of what you do when your emotions run high under any other circumstance, and consider employing the same tactics here. Even then, you may need additional help to work through your emotions. Do whatever you need to do to keep your emotions in check, so your child knows they’re still loved and protected.
If you struggle to manage your feelings, consider these options:
- Seek one-on-one counseling with a professional therapist.
- Develop a support system, whether with your friends and family or with an outside support group.
- Set aside time to specifically do things that have nothing to do with the situation at hand. Maybe it’s a trip to the salon by yourself, or a family trip to the movies.
- Take care of yourself, both physically and mentally.
What Is My Child Feeling?
Just as your reaction to discovering the abuse may be different than someone else in the same situation, your child’s reaction will also vary. For some children, it may seem like nothing happened. For others, the aftermath can be devastating. No matter how your child reacts, it’s important to let them know they are loved, this isn’t their fault, and you will protect them.
Some of the most common reactions include:
- Anger at you for not protecting them
- Anger at you for removing the abuser from the home if they were part of the family in some way
- Confiding in someone else besides you
- Talking about the abuse constantly
- Never talking about the abuse
In addition, your child may be experiencing a wide range of emotions. For instance, they may be scared about the repercussions of revealing this abuse, or that no one will believe them. They may also feel guilty of being responsible for the abuse, or ashamed if they felt positive physical sensations during the abuse.
On the other hand, they may feel relief that this burden of secrecy has finally been lifted off their shoulders. They may also feel hopeful that this situation will stop. In some cases, abused children may feel a contradictory mixture of many emotions. It’s important that you support and care for your child, no matter how they react.How Can I Help My Child?
If your child comes to you and tells you they’re being abused, or you discover it by other means, it’s crucial you
act with care and urgency
. Remove the abuser from the home and/or to cut them off from any access to the child. Usually, the best way to do so is to call 911 and report the crime. That way, you and your family can rest easier, knowing the abuser cannot reach you and that they will have to answer for their crimes.
Second, make sure your child knows you believe them. It can take all the courage they have to come forward and reveal this secret. Remember that children rarely if ever lie about such situations or make false accusations on this scale. Furthermore, a child may later say the abuse didn’t happen, even if it actually did, or may try to take back their statement. This is a relatively common phenomenon, and shouldn’t invalidate their original story.
Next, you need to confront the problem. That means taking the right steps to make sure your child is safe. It’s important not to react rashly, such as having a physical confrontation with the abuser. Rather, contact the proper authorities and make sure the abuser can’t hurt your child again.
Finally, seek help. The road to recovery after suffering from sexual abuse can be a long one. If it’s not handled properly, the repercussions of the abuse can be lifelong. For example, the risk for substance abuse increases drastically for people who suffered sexual abuse as a child, especially those that receive no treatment or counseling. Abuse is a traumatic experience, and many children affected eventually develop post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s why it’s so important to seek proper therapy and other services for your child after you’ve discovered sexual abuse. Where Can I Turn for Help?
We’ve compiled a vast list of resources for victims and their families. You can view it here.