Coping With Unconfirmed Cases

It is possible that your child disclosed that her father (or your partner) sexually abused her, and the investigation did not confirm the allegation. Many child abuse cases do not have sufficient evidence to proceed in a court process. This usually occurs when the child is young and unable to disclose effectively during the investigation process. If the child is required to testify, and the mother does not want the child to be retraumatized by appearing in court to face her accuser (abuser), this may also result in dismissal of the case. In cases where the abuser denies that abuse, and no legal conviction for sexual abuse has occurred, the mother may be left without recourse. It is possible that Child Protective Services has also dropped the case. The mother may then be left with a responsibility to protect her child in an impossible situation. When the child is allowed unsupervised access to the child by Child Protective Services following an investigation, and when no criminal charges are in process, the father has continued access to the child.

You, as mother, are still in the position of needing to provide protection to the child. If your child has disclosed, and no protection is available from law enforcement or the court, then your child continues at high risk of further abuse. You can minimize the risk by separating and/or divorcing your spouse. However, without conviction of sexual abuse, the father has legal rights and access to the child. You, as mother, can not interfere with the father's visitation rights without facing potential legal consequences. If the mother attempts to legally dissolve the relationship, the father may counterfile for custody.The father may initiate court proceedings for custody of the child. In a custody case, he will be afforded the rights and access due him, based on his role as father.   

Mothers face a difficult dilemma in these circumstances. If your child has disclosed, and your previous spouse/partner has access to your child, you will want to deny that access. You want to protect your child. You recognize that you are responsible to protect your child. However, you may be unable to keep her from her abuser. It is important that your child know that you believe her and support her, and that open communication occurs. It is important that your child be in ongoing therapy so that she has a safe place to talk about her concerns. Therapist's recommendations, based on the welfare and best interests of the child, are often considered by the court as determinative in child safety issues. Professional support can assist you in difficult decisions. It is also important that you be in ongoing therapy to address issues related to your child's abuse. A support group  will provide a safe place for you to talk to other mothers of sexually abused children. 

It is important that you recognize that you are not helpless. Keep a log of interactions and concerning behaviors of the abuser. Maintain a log of all suspicious statements made by the child. If the child discloses again, immediately report to Child Protective Services and to law enforcement. Consult with the child's therapist. If the child discloses to the therapist, a report will be made. Your hope is that with time and additional reports to Child Protective Services, that the abuser will be arrested and charged.

This is the most stressful and difficult scenario that is possible! The preferable outcome is that the abuser is charged, convicted, have consequences for his actions, be supervised (probation/parole), and have limited or no access to children. The most untenable outcome is that the mother is forced by the law to surrender her child to the abuser for unsupervised visits. Mothers in this situation will struggle with guilt, depression, anger/rage, fear, and anxiety. Many other problems may occur. Eating, sleeping, working, and other areas of her life may suffer. It is important to remember that the child who has been abused desperately needs a healthy parent to support her. You may need to force yourself to use your support group, go to counseling, exercise, and practice other healthy coping strategies. You can learn how to manage your negative thought patterns and create a safe home for your children in spite of the circumstances.

If your child has disclosed sexual abuse, and no protection is available from external sources, you must be your child's protector. Not having the abuser in the home provides the best protection. If you have chosen to reunite with the perpetrator, it is important that you manage safety issues regarding your child. If the perpetrator lives in the home with children, a Safety Plan needs to be in place. That plan would set Rules and Guidelines for the household in order to keep your child or children safe. Your child may interpret the continued presence of the abuser in her life as a betrayal - your betrayal of her - and this will most likely alter your relationship with your child. She will not consider you a safe resource. Denial, ambivalence , and other normal responses may interfere with your ability to think clearly and make effective decisions. It is important that you consult with professionals, be as honest as possible with your counselor, and be involved with a support group of other mothers of sexually abused children. 
See Keeping Your Children Safe.


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