It is every parents’ worst fear to think that their child has been hurt. Once your child has disclosed that they have been abused you will no doubt have lots of thoughts, questions and concerns as to what you can do to help your child.
At The Gatehouse we have the knowledge and experience on dealing with the journey of healing after disclosure and we are here to help you and your family.
Parents often worry that their child may be abused by someone they do not know, however, statistics show that more often than not abuse is carried out by someone the child and family knows – they may be family, friends, neighbors or babysitters. An abuser can be male or female of any age. Both boys and girls can be abused and at any age.
Below is some information that explains what different types of abuse are and ways in which you can support your child. If you think a child is being abused then you must inform your local police division or child welfare protection officers. Please do not confront the abuser yourself!
Child sexual abuse is any sexual act with a child carried out by an older child or adult. Often these involve body contact but not always. It may include, but not limited to:
- Sexual touching of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed
- Encouraging and /or manipulating a child to be involved in sexual activity, including masturbation
- Penetrative sex, including penetration of the mouth
- Engaging in a sexual activity in front of a child
- Showing pornography intentionally to a child
- Encouraging a child to become involved in prostitution
Physical abuse consists of anything one person does to another that causes physical pain. This includes slapping, pinching, punching, pushing, throwing objects at another person, assaulting someone with an object or anything that brings about physical pain or discomfort to another. Physical abuse can result in bruises, black eyes, knocked out teeth, broken bones, and internal organ injuries.
Emotional abuse includes psychological abuse or psychological maltreatment and is a pattern of behavior that makes someone feel worthless, flawed, unloved, or endangered. Like other forms of abuse, emotional abuse is based on power and control. Emotional abuse does not leave physical marks but can be more disturbing than physical harm, and it often leads to physical abuse.
Some forms of Emotional Abuse are as follows:
- Rejection: refusing to acknowledge a person’s presence, value or worth
- Isolation: placing restrictions on contact with others; refusing access to money
- Denying emotional responsiveness: being detached and uninvolved; interacting only when necessary; ignoring a person’s mental health needs; denying affection such as a hug
- Terrorizing: placing a person in dangerous situations; threatening to hurt a person or his/her loved ones; setting rigid or unreasonable expectations
- Neglect: not providing for a person’s physical, mental, emotional and other needs, including medical/health care, education, shelter, food and a clean, comfortable and safe home.
Neglect and Maltreatment:
Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs.
- Neglect may be:
- Physical (e.g. failure to provide necessary food, shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision)
- Medical (e.g. failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment)
- Educational (e.g. failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)
- Emotional (e.g. inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)
These situations do not always mean a child is neglected. Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors, indicating the family is in need of information or assistance. When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child’s health or safety is at risk, then child welfare intervention may be required.
Disclosure with your child:
No parent wants to think or believe that someone is or has abused their child. Imagine the thoughts, feelings and emotions running through the mind of a child or youth when deciding whether to disclose that they are or have been abused.
What is disclosure?
Disclosure is when a child or youth tells you or lets you know in some other way that she/he has been, or is being abused. Disclosure can be direct, indirect, or a third-party disclosure. It may be that your child chooses to disclose what has happened to them to another person – try not to focus too much on the fact that they have disclosed to another as there are many reasons why they have not told you. Your role moving forward is to offer unconditional love and support to your child. The time frame for a child disclosing can vary from immediately after it happens to days, weeks, months or years after the abuse has taken place. Your child will be experiencing a range of emotions and feelings during this time period.
Below are some of the feelings they may experience on disclosure:
- Your child may have been threatened by the perpetrator to keep this a secret
- Your child may be fearful that they will in some way be blamed for allowing this abuse to take place
- Your child may worry about the repercussions to the family if the abuse is carried out by a family member
- Your child may fear that they may not be believed about what has happened
- Your child might believe they could be treated differently after they disclose
- Your child may not have understood what has happened to them
- Your child may have conflicting feelings towards the abuser if it is someone they trust and love
- Your child may be confused in the sense that they know that the abuse is wrong yet they enjoyed the attention and that some of it felt nice
- Your child may feel that the abuse is their fault or that they should have done something to stop it
- Your child may feel guilty that they didn’t say something sooner
- Your child enjoyed the attention that they received
- Your child may feel that it is easier to pretend it never happened rather than having to retell the events to you
Some factors which may influence effects of the abuse:
- The nature of the relationship between the victim and the offender
- The closer the emotional connection or bond the greater the trauma
- The age of the child when the abuse began and the duration of the abuse
- The type of sexual activity the child was exposed to
- The level of aggression the child was exposed to from the abuser
- The response the child receives when they disclose their abuse
- The availability of a support network or person that is there for the child immediately and ongoing after disclosure
- The reaction from the first person they talk to can shape how they move forward in their healing process
Ways as a parent you can offer support to your child:
- Make it very clear that you believe them. It is more than likely that their abuser has told them that if they reveal their secret nobody will believe them. Your role is simply to be there for your child and offer unconditional love and support. Allow them to tell the incidents in their words. Resist the temptation to jump in and use your words or ask leading questions. Being there and listening to them is crucial at this stage.
- As shocking and hurtful as this revelation may be to you it is vital that you remain calm in front of your child. Your response and reaction will be something your child will be watching for. A negative reaction from you can contribute to your child feeling that they are to blame for the situation and should have done more to stop the abuse. They may begin to believe that they should not have told you and carried the secret themselves and take back what they have told you to avoid causing further upset and to protect you.
- Do not be afraid of saying the ‘wrong thing’. Your child has chosen to confide in you which shows that they trust you and want you to help them. Your child will benefit from the support and reassurance you will provide.
- Talk to the child in a safe and private place. This is a conversation that should take place without interruption and with no chance of the conversation being overheard which will disrupt the flow of disclosure.
- It may take several conversations for the whole series of events and incidents to be told to you. Never rush the child to disclose. They will do so at their own pace.
- Throughout the conversation it is important that you continue to reassure your child that the abuse is not their fault. It is not uncommon for the abuser to try and convince their victim that they are in some way to blame for their abuse. This includes comments about clothing they were wearing, that they were ‘flirting’ with their abuser or not saying ‘No’ when it first happened.
- Reassuring them they have done the right thing by telling you which will help in easing any feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment.
- Never make promises you are unable to keep – such as agreeing not to tell anyone this has happened. Their trust has been broken already, now they need an adult who can help stop the abuse and help them rebuild their feelings of trust to others. Tell them that they do need to talk with others but it will only be discussed to people who will help them and keep them safe.
- You must report this to the authorities. The safety and well being of the child is up most! If the abuser is someone who lives with your child then they will, for their own safety, be removed from the home whilst the investigation is being carried out. If the abuser is not living in the family home and there is a parent/guardian who can offer support and care then it is likely that your child will remain in the family home.
- Tell your child what you are planning to do next. Through the abuse your child has lost control and power over actions so by keeping them informed, as much as you can, will help with rebuilding their feelings of safety and power.
- Do not confront the abuser yourself.
Sometimes your child may recant or take back the allegations of abuse and there are several reasons why this may happen. The most common reasons are feeling responsible for a family break down and/ or upset or not being believed by family members and friends.
This does not mean that the abuse did not take place. As frustrating as this may be to you, your role is to provide love and support to your child. Do not try and pressure your child into changing their mind or imply that they have made the abuse up as this will have negative effects not only on the court and investigation process but also on your child as they move forward.
Behavioral and Psychological effects of abuse:
- Low self esteem
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Destructive behavior
- Post traumatic Stress Disorder
- Multiple Personality Disorder
- Repeat victimization
- Criminal activity
- Academic difficulties
- Substance abuse
- Relationship difficulties
- Trust problems
What can a parent/caregiver do to protect their child?
Be alert to anyone:
- Paying an unusual amount of interest in your child
- Actively seeking to spend time alone with your child
- Giving them gifts or toys
- Offering to take them on trips, vacations or outings
Ensure that you find out as much information as you are able to when you are leaving your child with someone new. Take time to explain to your child about sex and what are the ‘good touches’ and ‘bad touches’ and what they can do if someone tries to do this to them.