You love your child and try to keep them safe, but nonetheless, child sexual abuse is a prevalent problem in the United States and the possibility that one day your child might come to you and tell you of an abuse is a real fear for way too many parents. Sexual abuse of children has been committed by people that you might never think would hurt a child. It could be a teacher, church leader, neighbor, caregiver, or family member. They come from all walks of life. Child predators are good at deceiving and grooming, not only children, but sometimes their parents to fulfill their evil desires. Hopefully, you have kept the lines of communication open and your child will feel they can trust you with this humiliation that was perpetrated on them. They tell you they have been touched, and NOT in a good way. So what do you do now?
1. Believe them. Take what they say seriously. Keep your head. Do not rant or rave. This is an extremely sensitive time for your child. If they have come to you it is in confidence, you probably already have a good relationship. Do not promise not to tell if they tell you. If you really believe they have been molested, it has to be reported. This is the only responsible and protective thing you can do for them. It is your duty. Tell them that you will only tell others who will try to protect them and help them.
2. Make sure that they know that it is not their fault and that you love them, even if they were attacked in a place they were told to stay away from. This is not the time for discipline or punishment. Never be angry with them or scold them. Let them know that it was a very brave thing to do to come forward and tell. Reaffirm that they were not the ones who did anything wrong. Let them know that you are there to protect them.
3. Report it to the police. Get the situation investigated. (Sometimes children come up with stories that are not true, but this is a crime that MUST be investigated. Most molesters have probably already molested many children and they will molest again if they are not apprehended. This is a job for law enforcement. Do not confront the molester yourself!
4. Get a doctors exam for your child. You might think that this would just add trauma to your child, but often with sexual abuse there are physical injuries that could affect your child later in life. More and more sexually transmitted diseases have been reported with sexually exploited children. You would want to know of an STD as soon as possible. One more thing, that documentation can be used in court. It might mean the difference between an abuser facing justice or just walking free to molest yet again.
5. Seek counseling. Your child has been traumatized. They are experiencing emotions they have probably never felt before. Sometimes, it can be emotionally upsetting to talk of abuses to a parent. Often a child will open up to someone who is not a family member. Remember, most children will believe they did something to cause the abuse and that it was their fault.
6. Stand up for your child in court and do your best to make sure that their attacker is punished. The defense always tries to get the best deal for their client. They do this by trying to trip up a child’s testimony or make them believe the abuse was “not that bad.” Let your child know that telling the truth helps them and helps other children who might be abused. Let your kids know that you love them no matter what.
7. Realize that oftentimes the worst side effect of molestation is shame. Help your child to know that the responsibility lies with the perpetrator. Children often assume the guilt and feel they are responsible when they are abused. The shame does not lie with the child, only with the transgressor.
8. Forgive yourself. This can be a very difficult thing to do for a parent who has thought of themselves as protective and loving. Parents try to care and protect their children in every situation. Unfortunately, predators are skilled in the art of opportunity and manipulation. Just like with what you tell your child, the predator is totally to blame. When something like this happens you have to be strong for your child. Be an example by being brave enough to continue on.
Child molestation and sexual exploitation is always traumatic, but the child can go on to lead a normal life. They can still accomplish. They can still thrive. Help your child to have a happy rest of their lives. It is not unusual for a child to be withdrawn or depressed about what has happened to them. Intercede in this occurrence by making sure your child is seen by professional help. Make a difference. The difference could be a child that succeeds in life, or one that flounders by the wayside.