Written by: Rebekkah Witten, LCSW, TF-CBT Certified
So you’ve noticed some warning signs, or your child has reported sexual abuse to you. What should you do now?
- KEEP YOUR COOL. You will probably feel some powerful emotions, including shock, rage, fear, grief or disbelief. Keep in mind that your child is probably pretty nervous, too, and they’re looking to you for help. Take a break and take some deep breaths if you need to.
- THANK YOUR CHILD. Even if you don’t know what else to say, make sure you tell them you are proud of them for telling you such a hard thing.
- BELIEVE THEM. Recall that only 4-8% of sexual abuse allegations are made up. Most people don’t want to believe this has happened to their child! Your first response may be something like, “Are you sure that’s what happened? Maybe you misunderstood” or “That can’t be true, I can’t believe he/she would do something like that!”
That’s ok. That’s normal. Take a deep breath and choose to believe your child. If it’s a false report, you’ll figure that out. But if it’s true, they really need your support right now.
- REPORT IT. Call the non-emergency police or your local child protection services. Here in Kentucky, the toll-free number for reporting child abuse of any kind is 1-877-KYSAFE1 (1-877-597-2331). Many parents worry that making a report will get the children removed from their home, but making the report actually shows that the parent is doing everything within their power to protect the child. You do not want to take the chance that someone else will make a report, and then you’ll have to explain why you knew about this but did not report it!
- GET HELP. Seek a trauma-informed therapist to help your child process the abuse. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is one type of treatment that helps children (aged 3-18) process their thoughts and feelings related to the abuse. After a traumatic event, people (even little kids!) often have thoughts such as “It was my fault” or “I deserved it,” or they might feel dirty, broken or ashamed of what has happened. Ignoring these thoughts or avoiding reminders of the abuse feels like it helps in the short term, but over time these twisted beliefs will continue to grow and affect the child – even all the way into adulthood. It is hard to ask for help, but an experienced therapist can help your child to move past the abuse.
Keep in mind that other family members may also need help to feel safe and secure again after learning about the abuse of their loved one. And don’t underestimate the value of having your own support – many parents continue to struggle with feelings of guilt, anger, or depression even long after the abuse was reported. This is a very difficult situation for everyone – don’t be afraid to ask for help!
So now we know what it is, what to watch for, and what to do if it happens. In the next article, we will discuss how to protect your family from predators and prevent child sexual abuse from happening.