Just when you thought the unthinkable couldn’t happen it did. Nothing possibly could have prepared you for this moment. (Your thinking) A tear stricken child had just enough strength and courage to confide in you about the “Secret” they had been holding on to. They reveal to you in whatever language is comfortable and appropriate for them that they had been abused. (Sexually)Although those exact words are a foreign language and are likely not the language they would use with you, as an adult you know enough to know that is what transpired. Whether you are a parent, teacher, caretaker or anyone with a sense of empathy, you instantaneously go through a mixture of emotions. Emotions ranging from outrage and anger to concern, worry, sadness, betrayal, and fear then grip every fiber of your being taking the right words to say right out of your mouth leaving you speechless. Hopefully, you never find yourself in this predicament but if this is the case the most IMPORTANT thing you can do in this situation is to LISTEN!
Listen, Why is this so important? That child’s VOICE matters. Oftentimes when children are sexually abused the perpetrator’s job is to prevent that child from speaking up. A child confiding in you about the “Secret” is one of the most difficult but yet courageous things that child can ever do, the least you can do is be all ears initially as they talk.
Interrogation is NOT an option! Your first instinct may be to get as much information as possible through questioning the child, but you may do more hurt than help if this is your approach. For example, if the child is already fearful you asking leading questions can potentially have the child tell you what you want to hear out of fear as opposed to the whole truth. Save the Who, What, When, Where, and Why’s for the authorities who are trained and licensed to do what they do.
Support the child in whatever way you can in the moment and of course ongoing. This may look like giving the child a hug, a high five, holding their hand, assuring them that you are going to be there for them. Whatever support looks like to you that child needs your support like never before in that moment.
Tell police authorities immediately preferably not in front of the child. The child’s case would then be dealt with by a specialist child abuse investigation team. Also, some other helpful places are Child Protective Services, Administration of Children Services or the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline. They are licensed, prepared and equipped to handle the interrogation process.
Encourage the child, let them know you believe them(Super Important). Tell them how proud of them you are for being so brave and courageous for telling even though it was scary to do so. Encourage them by assuring them that you are there to help them and you will do everything you can to keep them safe from the perpetrator. Encourage them by letting them know it is not their fault.
Never blame the child. The child always has been and always will be the victim. Refrain from using common phrases such as “Why didn’t you tell me sooner”? “Why did you let him or her do that to you”? Phrases like this don’t sound or feel good to the victim. Oftentimes when children are sexually abused they feel a sense of guilt and shame for something that was never their fault. Phrases like these as well as similar phrases end up doing damage to the victim.
Although this is a dreaded conversation that you would never want to have with any child, we know this is not the perfect world we live in where 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Prevention and preparation are key in keeping our kids safe!
There are many resources to begin the discussion on Personal Body Safety such as the one listed below.
This book uses a simple direct and age-appropriate approach it teaches children a variety of topics such as:
- The difference between good and bad secrets
- Who to turn to for help if they are keeping a bad secret
- The difference between an appropriate and inappropriate touch
Designed for ages 4 and up you can rest assured that concerned Parents, Caretakers, and Educators can approach this topic with ease. Children would be able to receive guidance that they can understand, practice and put to use.
Feel free to check out my newest children’s book entitled No More Bad Secrets A kid-to-kid guide on safe body touch. AVAILABLE NOW