Learning that your child is the victim of sexual abuse is a parent’s worst nightmare. And when your child discloses abuse to you, the flood of emotion can make it seem impossible to know how to respond.
In this painful moment, the things a parent does or says will be critical to a child’s experience and recovery, so consider the following suggestions for what to do if your child tells you they have been abused.
Reassure your child
Children often feel scared, ashamed and guilty after someone abuses them. One of the most important things you can do is to make sure your child feels safe and that this is not their fault.
Believing your child is vital to helping them feel safe. Even if you are uncertain about what your child is telling you or do not want to believe it, listen to them. And understand that the vast majority of childhood sexual abuse claims are substantiated; false allegations are rare.
You will also want to terminate any contact between your child and the perpetrator immediately. Whether it is a family member, teacher or clergy member, eliminating unsupervised contact is crucial to stopping abuse and protecting a child.
The most important thing a parent can say in this situation is that what happened is not the child’s fault and does not make you love them any less. Feeling loved and supported can make it easier for a child to disclose more information and ultimately navigate the recovery process.
After disclosure of sexual abuse, parents should notify authorities right away. Parents may hesitate to do this, thinking they can handle the situation independently, but the fact is that New Jersey is a mandatory reporting state. This means that every person must report abuse or suspected abuse to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
You will also want to get outside help from counselors, therapists and sexual abuse survivor support groups.
Eventually, you can discuss legal action with an attorney, but in the time immediately following a child’s disclosure, prioritize your child’s safety and needs.
On a final note, sexual abuse of a child should not happen to anyone, but tragically it does. Thus, it is crucial for you and your child to understand that you are not alone and you do not need to go through this trauma by yourself.