If your child has been sexually abused...

How parents can respond effectively

If your child reveals that s/he is being abused:

  • Believe the child. Children rarely lie about sexual abuse.
  • Commend the child for telling you about the experience. Do NOT say "You should have come to me sooner."
  • Assure the child that you will protect him or her.
  • Convey your support for the child. A child's greatest fear is that they are at fault and responsible for the incident. Alleviating this self-blame is of paramount importance.
  • Temper your own reaction. Your greatest challenge is not to convey your horror, anger or any hysteria about the abuse. Over reactions make children wish they hadn't told.
  • Tell your child that you will work with him/her regarding his/her feelings about the incident. Seek professional help if you feel ill equipped to do this.
  • Do not take any steps against the abuser without first informing your child about them and seeing how he/she feels about them. This will depend on the age of the child involved.
  • Do not begin to impose restrictions on your child as a result of the abuse i.e. not going out anymore etc. These will make the child feel that she/he is being punished for something that was not their fault.
  • Most important: DO NOT TRIVIALIZE your child's experience. You will be tempted to say, "It's all in the past now, forget it, don't make a big deal about it, don't even think about it." This sort of avoidance will not make the issue disappear from your child's mind. Your child has been affected both psychologically and physiologically and needs your support to begin healing. Therefore, without trivializing your child's experience let him/her know that many children are sexually abused and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.

If your adult son/daughter reveals s/he was abused as a child:     

Child sexual abuse is a difficult thing to face. When a survivor tells you s/he was abused, you will have many strong feelings. You may feel guilty, enraged, appalled, or devastated. You may feel threatened or trapped. You may not believe the survivor. You may feel attacked or blamed. You may feel deep compassion and sorrow for her pain. Or you may feel confused, hopeless or even completely numb.

If the abuser is (or was) a family member, the image you have of your family will be shaken. If the perpetrator is your husband, son, brother, or father, someone within your immediate family circle, you will be faced with agonising choices. You may have to make critical decisions about separation, divorce, family loyalty. Your life will be thrown into turmoil.

Although it is distressing to give up your image of your family, this is a crucial opportunity for everyone to face unhealthy patterns. If child sexual abuse is not dealt with, it often repeats itself generation after generation. It is a serious problem that affects the whole family, not just the survivor. 

"...the reaction of the family is paramount in shaping the degree of impact on the child. When the family is supportive, gets immediate help for the child and [avoids blaming him], the long-term effects can be lessened. However, when the family does not understand, blames the child for the sexual abuse or is unable to accept that the child was victimized, the impact can be truly devastating because the family's reaction confirms the child's worst fears: that s/he did something wrong or did not do enough to prevent the sexual abuse. In these cases, the family members become co-conspirators in the abuse because, in failing to give the child what s/he needs during a time of tragedy, they may do far more damage to the child than did the abuser. It is no surprise that children will feel stigmatized by the sexual abuse if their families treat them with disdain and disgust." - ASCA Survivor-to-Thriver Manual