What If I think My Child Has Been Abused?

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How should I react?

What should I do?

How Should I React?

Your first priority is to your child. There is nothing more important in the world than what you do to help that child. Recognize as you read these suggestions that learning or suspecting your child has been abused is, or should be, a shock. Donít get caught up in being perfect. Parents of children who have become victims are hard enough on themselves. Do what you need to do now to insure the childís physical safety and emotional development.

1. Let your child talk. Listen without interrupting, even though you may have many questions. Those can be addressed later.

2. Display your sadness, but remain calm. The child may misinterpret your reactions to think he or she is causing trouble, or you are going to be hurt.

3. If you are angry at the perpetrator, thatís understandable and healthy. If you are angry at the child, you are way off base. It is important you understand that no matter what you think, the child could not tell you before that moment and could not stop the abuse. Thatís the perpetratorís fault, and that is who should own the anger.

4. Believe your child. Very rarely does a child make up a story about this. Although, children may recant, or take back the story later. They do this out of fear, either of being hurt more by the perpetrator, or by losing someone they love, protecting others, or by pressure when others do not believe.

5. Look your child in the eyes and tell him/her that you believe the story and you are relieved that the child shared it with you.

6. The following statements are powerful in the childís healing. "I am sorry that happened. That person had no right to hurt you. Its not your fault. You are not bad. You are not responsible, he(she) is. Iím glad you told. I love you."

7. Seek professional advice. You will probably be in a state of shock and not be able to focus well on what you need to do. Immediate consultation may be available from a crisis line, or a rape-crisis hotline. However, it is also important that you connect yourself and child to a mental health professional who is well-versed in abuse recovery, for the child and family.

8. Report it to authorities.

9. Consult with professionals concerning a medical exam. If the abuse just occurred, there may be physical evidence that needs to be collected for legal reasons. The child should not bathe. The clothes should be saved and given to the legal authorities. Many larger cities have professional teams that specialize in sensitively aiding the victim through this time. A medical exam can also reassure you concerning no permanent physical damage. The child may also need to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

10. Take a deep breath. None of this is easy for the caring parent. Right now, though, the child needs you to be stable and calm.

11. Do not discuss the abuse with people who do not need to know what happened. The child does not need to feel ashamed, but may become embarrassed if the abuse becomes a topic of conversation frequently.

12. Consult with law enforcement concerning an unbiased interview. Many larger cities have professionals trained in assessing children for abuse. They may ask to videotape their interview. This will insure you that an unbiased assessment took place. It also may be used in any court proceedings.

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What to Do:

1. Don'tpanic or over-react. Sometimes this is what has kept children from telling. The child is depending upon your stability.

2. Let your child see your anger toward the person who hurt him or her, but don't make threats to beat up or kill that person. Tell your child what you are going to do to protect him or her from further abuse, and to protect other children. Report it to the police.

3. Donít underestimate the effects this abuse has had on you. Parents can suffer from secondary post traumatic stress, exhibiting some of the same symptoms as their child. If you also are an abuse survivor, this can reawaken old or unresolved issues from your own abuse. It is also very important you seek professional counseling to get through these difficult times.

4. Donít pressure your child to talk about the abuse, or to avoid talking about it. Let the child talk at his/her own pace. This is important for emotional and legal reasons. The child does not need any additional pressure at this time. Silencing the child will be giving the child the message that he should not talk, a message he/she repeatedly had from the abuser. Leave it to the experts to get testimony. Sometimes the perpetratorís lawyers will make it seem as if the childís parent put the words into the childís mouth, and therefore sullied the truth of the testimony. Donít be afraid to talk to your child, but resist the desire to continue to quiz or push for information.Get your child to a counselor who specializes in this area. Children often express themselves through play and art.

5. Do not confront the offender with the child present. This may cause the child to go on to emotional overload. The child will have to confront the abuse at his/her own pace. Their healing may not include a face-to-face encounter. It should always be up to the survivors to lead the way in that confrontation.This writer never recommends it until after the victim has been through focused therapy with an expert in the field. As an adult, you may determine whether or not to confront the offender. The same emotional cautions holds true for you. Do not expect an admittance of truth or an apology. It rarely happens. If you are confronting because you want the perpetrator to know you know the truth, and that you believe the child, that goal can be accomplished. This is no small emotional event though, and professional consultation is strongly recommended. You also want to consider whether or not you will be in danger.Remember, you probably donít know this person as well as you thought. This person hurt your child and could hurt you.

6.Donít blame your child. It is never the childís fault, although the perpetrator will work to make the child believe that.

7. Donít lose touch with your own personal support system. You need help in getting through this difficult time.

8. Remember that while the abuse dramatically has changed all your lives, with help you can stop it from continuing to interfere. Untreated abuse can cause difficulties in relationships, feelings of inadequacy, fear, feeling trapped and other core feelings. These core feelings can trigger unhealthy behaviors such as overeating, not eating, compulsive spending, drinking, sexually acting out and depression. (For more information about core feelings, read Body Sense.

9. If you are reading this, you are a concerned, caring person. That is the most important person to have in an abuse survivor's corner. Thank you.

If you'd like more information on effective parenting and how to provide positive support to your child during troubled times, enroll in our online course Improving Your Parenting.
Copyright Brenda Crawford-Clark 2001


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