What you can do if your child/adolescent has been sexually abused:
If your child or adolescent has been sexually abused, it is best to immediately seek professional help from a psychologist that specializes in sexual abuse. When a child tells an adult that he or she has been sexually abused, the adult may feel uncomfortable and may not know what to say or do. The following are guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry regarding how to respond to children who say they have been sexually abused:
What to Say
If a child even hints in a vague way that sexual abuse has occurred, encourage him or her to talk freely. Don't make judgmental comments.
- Show that you understand and take seriously what the child is saying. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have found that children who are listened to and understood do much better than those who are not. The response to the disclosure of sexual abuse is critical to the child's ability to resolve and heal the trauma of sexual abuse.
- Assure the child that they did the right thing in telling. A child who is close to the abuser may feel guilty about revealing the secret. The child may feel frightened if the abuser has threatened to harm the child or other family members as punishment for telling the secret.
- Tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual abuse. Most children in attempting to make sense out of the abuse will believe that somehow they caused it or may even view it as a form of punishment for imagined or real wrongdoings.
- Finally, offer the child protection, and promise that you will promptly take steps to see that the abuse stops.
What to Do
Report any suspicion of child abuse. If the abuse is within the family, report it to the local Child Protection Agency. If the abuse is outside of the family, report it to the police or district attorney's office. Individuals reporting in good faith are immune from prosecution. The agency receiving the report will conduct an evaluation and will take action to protect the child.
Parents should consult with their pediatrician or family physician, who may refer them to a physician who specializes in evaluating and treating sexual abuse. The examining doctor will evaluate the child's condition and treat any physical problem related to the abuse, gather evidence to help protect the child, and reassure the child that he or she is all right.
Adults, because of their maturity and knowledge, are always the ones to blame when they abuse children. The abused children should never be blamed.
When a child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in getting help for the child and reestablishing their trust in adults.
*Dr. Buesing has over a decade of experience working with children and adolescents who have survived trauma. With a warm, supportive environment, your loved one can begin to work through the abuse, and his or her related emotions. Through therapy, the abuse can become a chapter in the book of life. A chapter that once read, can be closed so that the rest of his or her life story can unfold as it was meant to.