The family is profoundly affected by the sexual abuse
of a child. All family members will experience a time of grief
and may go through Kubler Ross' stages of grief: denial
, bargaining, depression
, and acceptance
If the disclosed abuse was incest
, the trauma
is intensified. All members of the family will struggle to make sense of a world that no longer makes sense. If the abuser
is the father figure
, he will leave the home. If he does not leave, the home will be an unsafe place, and family members will live in fear
. The mother will be more profoundly affected by the disclosure
if the abuser is her partner
than if the abuser was a stranger
. She will be torn by additional conflicting emotions
at a time when the victim and other children need her the most. If the incest was perpetrated by a sibling, parents will struggle with how to support and love both children. Incest will impact family members for the rest of their lives.
If the family has also experienced domestic violence
, this will contribute to an increased sense of fear and anxiety in the home. It will affect the ability of the mother to make decisions about safety. She may feel powerless and helpless
and may be afraid of the perpetrator. She may need a safe house
during the investigation. Family therapy
is effective in talking through many of the issues that families face following sexual abuse disclosure. It is a safe place where they can talk about their feelings, including anger, and join together in planning for a safer future.Open communication
is essential for a healthy family environment. It is important that children know they can talk about the sexual abuse and feel safe in discussing their feelings. Mothers need to override their own feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and embarassment. Mothers also need to ask the hard questions of children to find out whether others have abused their child or whether other siblings
were also abused.
After sexual abuse is disclosed, the victim needs safety
, and support
. Her needs must be prioritized. The ongoing investigation
will seek to uncover enough evidence to prosecute the offender and provide consequences, sanction, and treatment
. Historically, treatment resources have been directed primarily at victim and perpetrator. The needs of the mother are often overlooked at this time.
The needs of the siblings
are also rarely seen as urgent. What may be missed is that siblings have either been abused or have known about the abuse. They may struggle with guilt, shame, and self-blame. Sometimes abuse has been perpetrated by a sibling abuser
. Sometimes the child victim of incest acts out sexually with siblings. These possibilities confound the complexity of issues that mothers face as they attempt to rebuild a safe and protective environment for all
children.Other family members
are also involved following the disclosure. Some will not believe the allegation of abuse. Some will respond in inappropriate ways. Some will judge and criticize
the mother.These responses will add to the stress
that mothers feel.
If the abuse was incest and involved the biological father, step-father, or boyfriend, the mother may later choose to reconcile
with her partner. Social services
or treatment providers may have a reunification
plan for the family, based on the perpetrator's successful completion of treatment. When reconciliation or reunification occurs, the risk is present for re-abuse. If the perpetrator returns to the home, the risk is increased. Special safety precautions will be necessary.
If the offender returns to the home, or if the offender is a child who remains in the room, a Safety Plan must be implemented, with rules and guidelines
that are thoughtfully developed and implemented. It is the adult's responsibility to insure that rules and guidelines are followed and that a safe environment is created and maintained.