What to do if you discover your child has been sexually abused

Mother talking to daughter Finding out your child, or any child, has been sexually abused will send waves of anger, hurt, and despair throughout your body to the very core of your soul.  Despite your emotional despair, you must remain in control and keep your emotions muted, especially when in front of the child.  If the child made the disclosure herself then this is all the more important or else you risk making the child feel guilty for disclosing the truth.  When you discover that your child has been sexually abused, follow these steps:

Step 1 – reassure the child

Most importantly, immediately let the child know that they are not to blame and that you believe them.  Tell them repeatedly, over and over, that they are not to blame.  Make them understand that you believe them (rarely do children lie about this).  If the discovery was due to their own disclosure, make them understand that they did the right thing by telling someone.

Step 2 – remain calm

Remain calm, cool, and collected.  This is going to be a bumpy ride for both you and the child.  If you react strongly, the child, who is already afraid, will become scared and may turn this “negative” reaction from you into feelings of guilt.

Step 3 – shut off contact with the abuser

Immediately shut off all contact between the child and the abuser.  If it is a parent, get the child out of the house and away from the other parent.  Do not, under any circumstances, allow further contact.  The abuser will use the opportunity to their advantage if they are allowed to continue contact with the child.

Step 4 – call law enforcement

Above all, do not try to handle the situation yourself.  Call your local child abuse hotline.  If you do not have that number available, call your local police or sheriff department.  Even if you do not fear for the child’s immediate safety, you need to contact these departments ASAP.  The National Abuse Hotline (800-422-4453) may offer general help.  You will find a list of national and local organizations that provide assistance here or a list of contacts, by state, that you may contact to begin the investigation.

Step 5 – make the child feel like a hero

Assure the child that they can not be hurt by this person any more.  Let them know that reporting the abuser gives them a chance to get justice and ensures the abuser can no longer hurt them or any other child.  Make the child feel like a hero.

Step 6 – isolate the child from further discussions

Do not let the child overhear conversations about their disclosure.  Too much information or discussion may muddle the facts and interfere with the police investigation or prosecution (for this same reason, counseling services are often started later too).

Step 7 – begin steps to heal

Find a competent counselor to begin the process of healing for both you and the child.

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