If Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused

1. Respond calmly

  • Be careful to not over react, which could inhibit the child from telling you the whole situation. A child picks up on our reactions and our reactions can further traumatize the child.
  • Talk with your child about it in a matter of fact, but caring manner.
  • Focus on the child and not reacting against the perpetrator. Your anger is at what happened, not at your child. Your child could mistakenly interpret your anger or disgust as directed toward her or him.
  • Vent your feelings of anger, grief, etc. with your spouse and/or with a good friend, clergy, or a counselor at a later time.
  • Remember that the child’s response is shaped primarily by your reaction.
  • Respect your child’s privacy by talking with your child about this incident in a private place.

2. Believe your child

  • In most circumstances children do not lie about sexual experience.
  • Applaud your child’s courage.
  • Be sensitive to your child.

3. Encourage your child to tell you about the incident(s) of abuse

  • Do not ignore warning signs and symptoms.
  • Be sensitive and unhurried.
  • Show physical affection, and express your love and confidence with words and gestures.
  • Be accurate in gleaning and reporting details. Learn as many details as you can about the abuse.
  • Avoid interrogating your child for information. The child may give you a small part of the incident at first.
  • Listen to your child very carefully.
  • Let your child tell her or his story, but question your child carefully, not assuming that you know what your child means. (E.g., If your child says that he was touched, you can ask if the perpetrator touched her or him in a way that made your child feel uncomfortable. You could ask your child to tell you where he was touched.)
  • Do not pressure your child to answer if your child is reluctant to talk.
  • Reassure your child that you will not be angry with her or him.
  • Do not ask your child leading questions such as suggesting certain information, then asking your child to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
  • Be careful not to supply adult vocabulary. Let your child tell about the incident in her or his own words.
  • Allow your child to express feelings that she or he experienced both in the past and now.
  • Be careful that you do not indirectly infer blame or criticize your child. It will only hurt your ability to help.
  • If your child is reluctant to talk about it, let your child draw or act out what happened with dolls.

4. Reassure your child

  • Commend your child for telling you about the incident and show that it is all right to talk about the abuse.
  • Let your child know that she or he is not to blame. The perpetrator is 100% accountable. Your child has done no wrong. Most children are enticed into acts of abuse.
  • Assure your child that you will protect her or him and try to make sure that this will never happen again.
  • Ask your child if she or he has any questions or concerns (e.g., dealing with threats by the person).
  • Respect your child’s privacy. Tell your child that you will only tell people who need to know, and who will help.
  • Maintain open lines of communication with your child so that your child will be comfortable in making additional disclosures and in discussing her or his feelings.

5. Report the abuse

  • Do not investigate the abuse or confront the abuser yourself.
  • Serve as the child’s advocate if abuse has occurred.
  • There may be more victims.
  • Report the abuse to the Department of Child and Family Services or designated hotlines. Report the abuse to your mission’s administrator, to a school superintendent, or to whoever has the authority to take appropriate action.

6. Deal with your own emotions

  • Talk with a trusted friend or counselor about your feelings and reactions to help work through your own emotions.
  • It is important that you have worked through your own sexual issues. You are then in a place to be able to listen, and provide support to your child without coloring the experience with your own issues and bias.

7. Be patient

  • With yourself and with your child.

8. Get counseling for yourself and your child

  • This will include learning to respond in a helpful way to your child’s symptoms, such as misbehavior, depression, sexual acting out or sleep problems.
  • Make help for your child a priority over your work and ministry. This includes returning to you home country, if necessary to get counseling when none is available on the field. Demonstrate to your child that he or she is a priority in your life.

Here are some things you can say that will help your child:

  • I believe you.
  • I know it’s not your fault.
  • I’m glad I know about it.
  • I’m sorry this happened to you.
  • I will take care of you.
  • I’m not sure what will happen next.
  • Nothing about YOU made this happen. It has happened to other children too.
  • You don’t need to take care of me.
  • I am upset, but not with you.
  • I’m angry with the person who did this.
  • I’m sad. You may see me cry. That’s alright. I will be able to take care of you. I am not mad at you.
  • You can still love someone but hate what he or she did to you.