At the time that your child discloses sexual abuse
, your reaction will influence continued disclosure, openness to the legal investigation
, and willingness to engage in therapy
. Mothers have significant influence
in the child victim's
recovery and the family's
Validate your child's disclosure by expressing your belief. You can do this by:
- Telling your child you are sorry that this happened to her.
- Telling your child that it was not okay for the perpetrator to touch him in this way.
- Telling your child that it was not her fault in any way - that it is always the fault of the abuser, the person who is older and supposed to protect the child.
- Reassuring your child that you will do your best to make sure that this does not happen again. (Be careful not to make promises, however, if the perpetrator is a family member. Your failure to follow through in such cases will increase the child's hopelessness and helplessness.)
- Letting your child know that you are always available to talk. Find out when the times are that your child is most afraid and be there.
Your child will continue to talk about the disclosure if he feels safe with you. Continue to empathize with your child and accept and validate his feelings and thoughts about what has happened to him.
It is important that whenever you talk with your child about the abuse, that you talk in a calm voice and that you appear in control. Let your presence calm your child, reduce the confusion, and assist in driving out feelings of different, unloveable, and crazy. If you act shocked, angry, afraid, horrified, and out of control, your child will be distressed that she disclosed. You need to communicate that she can survive this. Your own coping skills can be demonstrated to your child.
The most important thing initially and ongoing is the mother's belief and support. The most harmful reaction is verbal communication of disbelief. If this occurs, the child internalizes a message that his or her reality can not be trusted. The child may no longer trust herself and her perception of right and wrong.
Other things that mothers may do that will hurt the child, reduce trust, or make the situation more difficult:
- Ask your child why she did not tell you about the abuse sooner
- Blame your child for any part of the abuse
- Minimize the seriousness of the abuse
- Minimize your child's feelings and reaction to the abuse
- Treat your child differently
- Change normal routines
Children often recant disclosures of information that they feel have not been heard and accepted by important adults in their lives. To recant is to take back something previously said. A child may give a clear disclosure of someone touching his private parts or violating him in other ways. If he then observes family members fall apart, hears doubts expressed regarding the disclosure, or experiences anger or pressure from the perpetrator, he will recant. He may never again disclose the abuse. Other reasons that a child may recant:
Let your child know that other adults will help you protect him. Be relaxed and matter of fact in supporting your child throughout the investigation process. If you are calm, she will feel safe, and this will reduce your child's anxiety and fear.
You may take your child to a counselor, and she may not talk to the counselor. Be patient with your child. It may take many sessions for her to feel safe. Ask your child what about the experience he likes and does not like. Give that feedback to the counselor. Your child may not be ready for counseling. Let your child know that you understand. Continue to validate her feelings and support her in this process.
It is possible that your child will not be willing to talk to investigators or disclose to others. Do not judge your child. Do not pressure your child. Let your child know that you understand how difficult this is for him, and that you are there with him, whether he tells anyone else or not. Do not take your child's refusal to talk about the abuse with investigators as proof that it did not occur. Most children do not disclose. A great deal of fear is associated with disclosure. The child is confused, ashamed, and afraid. Reassure and support. Get counseling for yourself.
If your child does cooperate with the investigation and disclose to professionals, the sexual abuse may not be "founded" by Child Protective Services and law enforcement. The case will be closed, and no action may be taken at this time. This places you in a difficult position, and your child may be at risk. Reassure your child that you will continue to help her stay safe. Place precautions in your child's life. Consult an attorney to assist in protecting your child. If your child makes additional disclosures, bring these forward to law enforcement.
The most difficult position for a mother is when the perpetrator has access to the child. You may have no legal recourse. The case may not have been founded. The perpetrator may be a parent or family member whom the court judges has a right to access and visitation with the child. In that case, you, as the mother, will need legal advice. The best protection for your child is your relationship with her. Keep the lines of communication open, again in a calm and undisturbed manner, so that your child can state fears and concerns. Make a Emergency Plan with your child.
Some perpetrators admit the abuse and go through sex offender therapy. If the abuser is living in the home again, certain precautions must be put in place to protect your child. See Rules and Guidelines. You need to be aware of warning signs that the perpetrator is no longer safe to be near your child. Communication processes and safety plans will need to be well planned prior to the offender's reentry to the home.