The greatest fear we might have is what if sexual abuse actually happens to my child? This is the biggest fear of all. Seeing your child in pain and unhappy and not being able to do anything about it.
As President for Not Guilty I have counseled many traumatized parents and abused children and adults walking with them a road to recovery. This might take months or years depending on the severity of the trauma, on who the perpetrator was, on how long the abuse went on and on the reaction of the parents when the child reported.
A parent’s greatest fear would be for his child to report sexual abuse. What should we do? How do we react? What are some of the things to help my child through this? Are there things I need to avoid?
There are a few steps we need to take that will decrease the negative effects of abuse.
The first step is: listen. It is very hard for the child to come and tell you in the first place. The child is probably terrified of telling you because the perpetrator has terrorized him/ her, telling him/ her that you will not believe what is being reported.
Step two: control your reaction. I know that learning of such an incident happening to your child is devastating, but the welfare of your child at that moment is more important than anything you feel. Your reaction at the time the child divulges this secret to you is crucial. It determines whether your child will feel supported and loved and whether he/ she will later suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or not.
The tone of your voice and your body language need to be one of compassion, never one of anger or aggression or blame. It is hard enough for the child to come to you and inform you of what happened; don’t make it more difficult.
Don’t take the role of a prosecutor, bombarding the child with questions: when did it happen? Where were you? Why didn’t you scream? Haven’t I told you that no one should touch your private parts? Why didn’t you scream?
Let the child tell you at his/ her own pace. Every time they talk about the matter, they will tell you more detail. The child needs to know he/ she can trust you as a parent.
You might feel that you have failed as a parent, but this is a big lie. The perpetrator is a master manipulator and many of us parents do not see it coming or miss the signs. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We can make it through this, as hard as it is, one day at a time.
Step three: Don’t try to correct the vocabulary your child is using as he/ she reports. This is not the right time. Just let the child blurt out all that he/she wants to tell you.
Step four: believe your child. It’s very difficult for a child to lie about such a matter. How would they even know about issues of that nature? Parents need to believe what their children are reporting.
Step five: show compassion as your child is telling you what happened. Show empathy.
Step six: thank your child for telling you. Tell the child that he/she is very brave for telling you and that they did the right thing.
Step seven: Tell the child that it’s not his/ her fault, then he/ she is not guilty, and that the offender is the guilty one.
After following these steps try to prevent the child from experiencing more abuse.
Let the child know that they will be protected and actually protect the child.
Try to refer the child for counseling. Be sure that the person treating your child can indeed help your child because sometimes there are counselors that are unqualified to address child sexual abuse and can actually make the case worse.
Reporting is crucial. Why? Because as is the case with Dr. Larry Nassar, who by the way was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse. DO you know what this means? He has been abusing athletes for decades. He is the perfect model of a pedophile who- until he/she is caught- has molested more than 200 victims. We need to unite to prevent another #metoo or another Larry Nassar from happening again.
None of us can do it alone. We need each other, we need to work together to make this world a safer place.
Finally, you can choose to look away, but you cannot say you didn’t know.