GUEST COLUMN: How to talk to your child about sexual abuse

By Michelle Glasgow

WISE Therapist

Has my child been sexually abused? This thought can be a parent’s nightmare. Yet, statistics show that 4 out of 10 males will be sexually abused and 6 out of 10 females will be sexually abused.

If you have information that your child has been sexually abused, what do you do? You call the Child Protective Services (CPS) in Lansing at (855) 444-3911 as soon as possible. Do not overly question your child, as this questioning may contaminate the case against their perpetrator.

The important things to do for your child are the following:

  • Right away you say “I believe you.” Children need reassurance, and that what happened was not their fault. Here are phrases to consider using:

I believe you.

I am sorry that this happened to you.

I am glad I know.

You will be taken care of.

(Courtesy art)

I am not sure what will happen next.

This was not your fault.

I am not mad at you;

  • Report the incident to CPS as soon as possible;
  • Get support from the legal system;
  • Let your child hear from you that family and friends may respond negatively, and explain that those people “just do not understand.” Explain this is a common reaction. Explain that not everyone will be able to handle that information;
  • Let the child know it is OK to be angry and treat your child as normally as you can. Your child may look like they are on an emotionally rollercoaster, let them know you are going to support them. Get a counselor if needed;
  • Let the child know it is OK to grieve. Admit your emotions to yourself and your child. “I may cry, it is not your fault; I will take care of you, even though it hurts me too;”
  • Help rebuild the child’s self-respect. A child may feel responsible, look at building their self respect and do not let them blame themselves;
  • Help your child to deal with confusion about her or his body. “Your body belongs to you, no one has the right to touch you, tell a trusted adult if someone does;”
  • Part of recovery from being sexually abused is feeling safe. Assist your child in safety planning. You may want to develop safety procedures, having a special word only the two of you know, if you child does not feel safe, and does not know how to express it. Help with boundary setting and help your child to recognize characteristics of manipulation, encourage telling a trusted adult.

You may need to revisit them in forgiving themselves, it was not their fault, address the teenage years, and watch your child for abnormal behavior, and that some of those abnormal behaviors are common for sexual abuse survivors. Be ready to talk to them if any concerns arises.

  • Forgive yourself. Educate your child on healthy boundaries, recognizing people that make unsafe decisions, recognizing red flags (jealousy, controlling personalities, violent people, people who lie, labeling, gifts). Let your children know that some sexual touch may feel good, and that is normal for our bodies to feel that way. Children may have confusion over their own feelings, someone that in people.

The process for healing childhood sexual abuse is different for every child; some children may appear to handle their sexual abuse rather well, and others may look as if their whole world fell apart.

Remember, this is your child’s journey and they must have input into treatment or options you are considering. Giving them options and choices is a way to empower your child as they recover and heal from sexual abuse.

If you or someone you know has a child you suspect has been sexually abused, call the CPS Lansing (855) 444-3911. After that, please call Women’s Information Services, Inc for adults or children that have been sexually abused. You can call WISE at (231) 796-6600 or (800) 347-WISE.

The information in this article was gathered from the book, “Helping Your Child Recover from Sexual Abuse,” written by Caren Adams & Jennifer Fay, 1987.

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