What to Expect

After a child makes a disclosure of sexual abuse, it must be reported to the local Child Protective Services agency for investigation. If a professional is already involved with you and your child, he or she is a mandated reporter, meaning they must report the abuse immediately. If you have not yet talked to someone about the abuse, call the physician that usually treats your child and schedule an immediate appointment. If the child has genital bleeding, cuts, or bruising, you may need to go to the emergency room.
Once the report has been made, a procedure will be followed to substantiate the abuse, evaluate the child, identify risk factors, and evaluate your willingness to cooperate in the process and take appropriate action to protect the child. Many people will be involved with you and your child after the report is made. Law enforcement, social workers, physicians , and interviewers will ask questions and determine what will occur next. In counties which have Child Abuse Assessment Centers, agencies and professionals will coordinate this investigative process, reducing child interviews and increasing the probability of successful handling of the case.

If it is determined that your child cannot be kept safe in her home, she may be taken into protective custody for a period of time. Your cooperation is critical at this point. If the child has told you that the perpetrator is your husband or partner, he must leave the home immediately. Your child is not safe with him in the home.

A legal process is initiated at the time of the report as sexual abuse is a crime.The investigation may gather enough evidence to determine that the report is valid. If so, the case will move forward with scheduled court hearings and possible criminal prosecution. You will then be involved with attorneys and prosecutors and continue to be involved with protective services. Information will be presented to a Grand Jury. Based on evidence presented, an Indictment or formal accusation for one or more criminal offenses will be handed up by the grand jury. Following the indictment, the prosecutors (Office of the District Attorney) proceed toward a criminal trial. An Arraignment will then be scheduled. The perpetrator will obtain legal representation and enter a plea, usually guilty or not guilty. Following the arraignment, the court process includes an Early Resolution hearing, an opportunity for settlement to occur before the case goes to trial. Prosecutors and the perpetrator's attorney will negotiate in what is called plea bargaining. They may settle the case at this point in the process. If no settlement occurs between attorneys, the case will move forward to a criminal Trial. During this process Dependency Hearings may have been scheduled regarding your child's protection and custody. 

All victims have legal rights, and the coordinator of Victim Services, usually working with the Office of the District Attorney, will inform you of these rights and direct you to available services. Victim advocates will be available throughout this process to provide support and assistance. A Child Advocate may be assigned by the court to assist in the representation and protection of your child in this case. From the time that the report is made, both you and your child may have access to free services, including counseling.  Your child needs to be involved in a counseling process as soon as possible after the disclosure. You will also benefit from counseling and a support group, if one is available in your area.    

It is possible that the investigation does not find  enough evidence to move forward in a legal process, it continues to be your responsibility to protect your child. Not having enough evidence to prosecute does not mean that the sexual abuse did not happen. The danger exists that because compelling evidence was not presented, both professionals and family members will doubt that abuse occurred. The most important thing is for you to believe your child. If your child disclosed sexual abuse, believe it, and protect her at whatever cost. Most children do not tell about the abuse. Many children continue to be abused following disclosure. As your child engages in counseling, it is possible that she will disclose more information that will lead to prosecution of the abuser.   


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