According to Melissa Goldberg, PsyD, “Recent reports highlight the alarming prevalence of child sexual abuse.” It is hard for a sexually abused child to open up about her bad experience, whether to her parent, her sibling, or her friend. There is fear that no one will believe her, especially if the perpetrator is manipulating her. According to Jessica Lang, LMFT, “The #1 reason children do not disclose ongoing sexual abuse is fear! They are afraid they wont be believed, that they or you will be harmed, or they will be blamed for the abuse.” Sometimes, she doesn’t want to create misunderstanding if the person who did the wrong thing to her is close to the family or a member of the family.
It takes a lot of courage on the child’s part before she can really say something or even give a hint that something bad had happened or keeps on happening to her.
So as a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, or an older adult whom a child trusts enough to make her open up to you, you must be aware of how you should react. Of course, it would be a shock, but still, you have to maintain your composure not to look judgmental, instead talk calmly and encouragingly so that she will be encouraged to speak with you more about it. According to Fran Walfish, PsyD, “Kids who’ve been abused may become mute, or refuse to speak.”
How To Respond
Here’s how you should react and respond to this critical subject according to a psychiatrist.
- Thank her for trusting you with this sensitive issue. This way you are building her confidence in you and will encourage her to talk more about what happened.
- You may clarify things but avoid asking her questions that she may feel shameful of. Experts can ask those questions as they know how to handle such matters without making it look or sound intimidating to the child.
- Never let the child feel that you are hurt or somehow judging her as she might withdraw all the things she just said, although this does not necessarily mean she’s lying about the abuse.
- Make her feel that you understand her and that you are taking the matter seriously. If you successfully make her feel this way, there’s a higher chance for her to feel much better than those who are not given an opportunity to express themselves freely. Healing from the trauma can be much faster if she feels accepted and loved despite what happened to her.
- Make her feel comfortable by standing up for her and never fail to affirm to her that it is right that she told you of her situation. It will lessen her fears, especially if the abuser is threatening her, and her guilt (if the abuser is a close friend or close relative).
- Make it clear to her that what happened was not her fault, and she had not done anything wrong and that the abuse is not in any form a punishment. Explain to her that there are people who are just sometimes simply bad. Tell her never to believe whatever lies the abuser had told her.
- Assure her that she is now in safe hands and that you will protect her at all cost, that you will make sure all the abuse will be put to a stop.
It is a sad fact that mostly those who are closest to the child that is the victim of sexual abuse are the ones who have the highest tendency to turn a blind eye on the situation and never want to talk about the issue. One reason is if the suspect is a trusted family member or a close family friend, or someone who is more powerful. Another is the fear of disgrace, that is, if the person involved is a family member, they would want to handle the situation by themselves and not engage the police so as not to make a big deal out of the incident.
Failing To Respond Properly Can Make The Child’s Condition Worse
Denying your child of justice for the abuse done to her for whatever reason is despairing to the child and adds more insult to the injury.
Forget the shame. Put your child’s safety first. Have your pediatrician check the child and ask her to refer you to a psychiatrist who specializes in evaluating and treating children who were sexually abused.
Whether it is your child, a friend’s child, a neighbor’s child, or someone you don’t know, you should respond when a sexually abused child opens up to you and do the best you can to help for the abuse to stop. There are many agencies, like the Child Protection Agency, that protects children from abuse which you can contact if you don’t exactly know what to do.
Never take a child’s welfare for granted. If someone opens up to you, no matter how delicate the issue may be, be a support for the child for her to establish trust once more.