Perhaps you’ve noticed a few of the physical or behavioral signs of sexual abuse in your child or a child you are close to. What now?

Most governments have clear laws on what you should do if you suspect child abuse. Learn your local laws so you know the steps to take and the order in which to do them.

But, more immediately, how should you respond and what should you say to your child? Here are eight things that can help you respond to the situation after you’ve recognized the signs.

01

Tread carefully

The child may feel ashamed, embarrassed, or even fearful when it comes to discussing the situation. Make sure that you’re being sensitive to how the child is feeling as you talk to them.
02

Respond, Don’t React

In addition to the child’s emotions, you need to make sure to be aware of your own. Anger at the perpetrator could be misconstrued by the child as anger at them. It’s important to keep your emotions in check and respond in a controlled and kind way. This will help establish or keep trust with the child.
03

Listen

You may want to know every detail about the situation, but don’t interview the child. Take the time to actively listen. Let them tell you what they want, how they want, and in whatever order they want. There will be plenty of time for learning the details later.
04

Let them know they’re safe

Ninety percent of sexual abusers are persons the child knows, and it could be someone that they trusted. Go out of your way to make the child realize that they are safe with you and safe to open up to you.
05

Validate their feelings

Whatever they are feeling is completely valid for the situation, even if that “feeling” is numbness. Let them know that their feelings are important and don’t brush aside feelings of shame they may have. Discounting any of their feelings may do more harm than good in the long run.
06

Don’t force it

A child may not be ready to talk. They may not be ready to show you where they’re hurting. Don’t push it. Sometimes the best help is letting them know that you know and that you’re there when they’re ready.
07

It’s not their fault

This may seem obvious to you, but not to them. It’s common for children to blame themselves for part or all of the abuse. Reassure them that it is not their fault and they are not responsible for what their abuser did.
08

Seek professional help

Sexual abuse can affect the entire family and the family dynamic. A therapist will not only facilitate the necessary steps for the child to have a healthy recovery, but can help the family begin to heal as well.

You may feel overwhelmed with your responsibility in this situation, but recognize that you are helping your child, do your best, and get the help necessary. You’re their parent, guardian, or trusted adult. What you do can, and will, make a huge difference in helping them reclaim hope and manage their recovery.

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