Written by: Karen MacKeigan, Program Assistant, RSSW, B.A., DAMHW, DECE
Reclaiming their voice – from secrecy to sharing
Many questions and concerns can arise following the disclosure of a child’s experience of sexual abuse. It is common for parents to consider that the perpetrator is a stranger. Statistics, on the other hand, have shown that abusers are often known to the child and family. In fact, 85% of child sexual abuse survivors know their abusers (Red Cross Canada, 2021) in some capacity – family, friends, neighbours, babysitters and other people of authority.
Oftentimes when a child discloses that they have been abused, they may be experiencing a range of emotions, including but not limited to: fear, confusion, guilt, shame and embarrassment. They may be experiencing a multitude of conflicting feelings as to why they love and trust their abuser, as well as a sense of blame and guilt. Among the potential fear for their safety, there may be a fear of whether or not they will be believed. It is important to keep in mind that your child has ultimately disclosed their trauma and now is the time to provide them with support.
Creating a Safe Haven
Childhood sexual abuse often diminishes a child’s sense of safety. This is even more prominent in events where the abuse occurs within the home. This type of trauma emphasizes the aspect of isolation, which can impede on one’s growth; however, resilience can be fostered by creating a safe space of inclusion. Furthermore, fostering a safe space where the abuse is no longer a secret, nor was it their fault will help in eliminating any shame or guilt that your child may be experiencing, which is commonly found among survivors. Caroline Byers Ruch (n.d.) notes that as parents, we need to “Build a bridge over shame by teaching kids about sexual abuse. Give them a chance to run to us should they encounter it. Be their hero.”
A few ways to offer support are listed as such (Gatehouse, 2021):
- Acknowledge their strength in coming forward and sharing their experience.
- Let them know that you believe their experience. A large fear that occurs with pre- and post-disclosure is the fear of whether they will be believed.
- Don’t fret about saying the wrong thing. It is okay to feel your feelings, but please know that your child has chosen to confide in you because they trust you. They value your support.
- Report the abuse to authorities. It is common to want to take action, but place the responsibility in the hands of authority.
Ruch, C. B. (n.d.). Quote by Carolyn Byers Ruch. Goodreads, Inc. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1048987-build-a-bridge-over-shame-by-teaching-kids-about-sexual
The Gatehouse. (2021). Child, youth, and parents: For parents. The Gatehouse. https://thegatehouse.org/child-youth-and-parents/parents/