Help for Parents When Children Have Been Sexually Abused
Finding out that your child has been sexually abused can take a toll on you, as a parent. It is important that you find a way to manage your own feelings so that you can focus on creating a safe, healing environment for your child.
The most important messages you can give to your child if he/she discloses abuse are:
I love you.
What happened is not your fault.
I will do everything I can to keep you safe.
Q. How am I supposed to react?A. Keep in mind that there is no perfect way to react when your child has been abused. Parents often experience a wide range of emotions at this time.
Some common reactions are:
- Anger. This can be anger at the person who hurt your child, anger/frustration with your child for not telling you about the abuse sooner, anger towards the agencies who are investigating and prosecuting the abuser, and even anger at your child for making a disclosure. Though it isn’t easy news to hear, always keep in mind that it is not your child’s fault.
- Anxiety. You might feel anxious about how to respond to your child, how to answer questions from your family and friends, and even anxiety about your previous relationship with the abuser.
- Fear. You may have fear that the abuser will find a way to harm your family because of the disclosure. You may also have fears that DHR will take your child/children due to the abuse.
- Guilt. A common reaction is “I should have known this was happening.” Or “I should have protected my child.” These feelings are especially strong if the perpetrator is a family member.
- Sadness/Depression. You may feel sadness for the lost innocence of your child or for the changes in your whole family that may result from the disclosures.
Q. How do I manage these feelings?A. Your child needs you to provide support in order for him/her to heal and move beyond the abuse. In order for you to be the support your child needs, you must take care of yourself.
Here are some self-help tips:
- Consider talking with a counselor one-on-one. We have 3 professionally licensed counselors and can provide both individual and group counseling and support. Our counselors can also make referrals to outside counselors, if needed.
- Develop your support system within your family and friends. Though people may not know exactly what to say to you to make you feel better, your friends and family want to be there for you. Let them!
A. This particular situation is especially hard for parents, who are trying to protect and support the child who has suffered the abuse, without totally abandoning their child who did the abuse. Though it may seem that professionals do not care about the abuser, in most cases the plans that are made for that child include a plan for counseling and assessment of both children. It is very important that you seek professional assistance in providing the safety that your children need.
Q. What if the perp is a sibling?
Q. What can I expect from my child?A. Each child is different in the way he/she responds to abuse and in the length of time it takes to heal from abuse. The healing process can take a long time, and the child’s reactions during that time can sometimes surprise parents.
Some common responses include:
- Being angry with you for not protecting them.
- Being angry with you for moving the perpetrator from the home. (Do not let this make you think that the abuse did not happen!)
- Confiding in someone besides you.
- Not talking about it at all.
- Talking about the abuse all the time.