When a child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused, it’s called disclosure. Disclosure can be a scary and difficult process for children. Some may take weeks, months, or even years to tell. Some will never tell.
Here is what to do if a child tells you they are being sexually abused.
Your reaction will have a big effect on how a child deals with the trauma of sexual abuse. Children whose parents/caregivers are supportive heal more quickly from the abuse. So stay calm. Hearing that a child you care about has been abused can bring up powerful emotions, but if you become upset, angry, or out of control, it will be more difficult for them to tell you what’s happened.
Tell the child you believe him/her. Let the child know that he or she is not to blame for what happened. Praise the child for being brave, and for telling you about the abuse.
Protect the child by getting him/her away from the abuser and immediately reporting the abuse to local authorities. Call 1-800-422-4453 or visit childhelp.org
In addition to getting medical attention for physical injuries or sexually transmitted diseases, it is important for the child to be able to talk with a mental health professional who specializes in child sexual abuse. It reduces distress in families and the effects on children. Many communities have local Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) that offer coordinated support and services in response to child abuse. To find a child advocacy center in your community, click here.
Tell the child that he/she is loved, accepted and important to you. Don’t make promises you can’t keep (such as saying you won’t tell anyone about the abuse), but let the child know that you will do everything in your power to protect them from harm.
Talk to your child openly about what’s going to happen in an age-appropriate manner, particularly as it relates to legal actions. Children feel very uncertain in these situations, so reassure them they are being kept in the loop.
Information above has been adapted from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s website. For more information on how to handle a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse, click here.