Help Your Child Cope With Having Been Sexually Abused

by Sheri_Oz

Your world falls apart upon hearing that your child was sexually abused. Hard as it is, your child can recover, you can recover, your family can recover.

When your child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused, you should congratulate both your child for being brave, and yourself for being approachable.

Children commonly do not tell about abuse until many years later, perhaps not until adulthood and perhaps not even then. This is true for a one-time event as well as for ongoing abuse situations.

Regardless of the way by which your child disclosed the secret of the abuse, he or she did believe that telling you would help and you can now take an active part in your child's recovery.

I am an Expert in the Field of Child Sexual Abuse

I just wanted you to know that I write this article after 25+ years of experience in the field. For the last ten years of my career, I established and ran a private multidisciplinary clinic for the treatment of sex trauma survivors, their families and in the later years for suspected perpetrators and their families as well.

My main message is: Bad things happen. You can heal and live a good life.

Parents' Reactions to Abuse Disclosure are Legitimate

Being only human, upon hearing of the abuse, you experience many different emotional reactions, some of which are helpful and some of which are not.

All of your reactions are legitimate in light of the crisis into which you have been thrown.

Remember, learning about the harm that was done to your child is a traumatic event for you, the parent, and not to be belittled.

Yes, your child was traumatized by the abuse, itself, and you are traumatized by hearing of it. You need support to deal with your own feelings.

It is important to know that some parents find it hard to accept that their child really was abused, just like society as a whole, that is only beginning to face and come to terms with the extent of sexual abuse.

Parents Feel Guilt After Sex Abuse Disclosure by Their Child

You may feel guilty that your child was abused. You may think that you should have been able to prevent it, that you are a negligent parent if you were not able to protect him or her from abuse. Please remember two things: (1) you cannot be with your child everywhere and at every moment of the day or night; and (2) bad things happen to children.

Children fall, are in accidents, get sick and they are bullied and hurt in many ways. I am not excusing or downplaying the impact of sexual abuse; I just want to make it clear that this is one of the many things that can befall a child. A parent's job is not to wrap the child in protective covers and keep him or her isolated from the world in order to be safe.

A parent's job is to do his or her best and when bad thing happen, a parent's job is to show the child how one best copes and recovers.

Young Children May Not Understand the "Sex" in "Sexual Abuse"

Another important fact to remember is that many young children do not understand the "sexual" aspect of the abuse. The parent certainly understand the acts in terms of "sexual acts". However, sex abuse it is not sexual, sex abuse is a form of control using sex as the arena in which to operate.

Not understanding the sexual aspects of the abuse and perhaps having been treated gently, the child may not feel traumatized by what happened. Similarly, an older child or teenager may clearly
understand the sexual nature of the acts yet interpret the abuse as love.

In such instances, the child may feel more traumatized by the reactions of the adults to the discovery of the secret than by the sexual abuse, itself. In such cases, parents need special help learning how to respond to the child.

Sometimes parents feel anger toward the child for "having allowed the abuse to happen" or for not having told about it sooner.  This is why understanding the dynamics of abuse is so important.

It is difficult to accept the fact that most perpetrators knew the child and had the family's trust, and in fact, made sure to gain the child's trust and dependence before beginning any sexual touch.

Even professionals in the field can fall into this trap.: a colleague of mine once mentioned that even though he was teaching about abuse and worked with abused children, he did not see the signs that pointed to the fact that his daughter's friend was being abused at home.

You need to give yourself time to come to terms with what happened. Seek professional advice for yourself at the same time as you seek therapy for your child. Talk to supportive friends and family
members. You need to work through difficult and contradictory thoughts and feelings and to do that privately, not in front of the child. This will help you be attentive to your child's needs and give
you the strength to be supportive of the child that was abused as well as his or her siblings who are also affected by what is happening in the family.

Educate Yourself About Pedophiles

Stereotypes about the sexual predator do not match how we see our kindly neighbours, uncles, fathers, mothers, sisters, friends of the family, etc. who like children and seem so nice. It is so threatening to our worldview to discover that this person, whom we never suspected, could commit such a heinous crime against a child.

Not only should we understand pedophilia in order to prevent sex abuse of children, we should also understand how the pedophile operates if a child of ours was abused. We thus understand more about what our child was up against, and how he or she manipulated us in order to gain access to our kid.

This understanding is important to being about to make sense about sexual abuse and why and how it happens. Making sense of abuse helps the whole family recovery from the trauma of abuse.

Not only should we understand pedophilia in order to prevent sex abuse of children, we should also understand how the pedophile operates if a child of ours was abused. We thus understand more about what our child was up against, and how the abuser manipulated us to gain access to our kid.

This understanding is important to being about to make sense about sexual abuse and why and how it happens. Making sense of abuse helps the whole family recovery from the trauma of abuse.

In this book, a convicted sex offender (who was also abused sexually as a boy) wants to help prevent what happened to him - AND WHAT HE DID TO OTHER KIDS - from happening again.

Stand by Your Child.

When you support your child, he or she learns that the guilty party in the abuse is the abuser alone.

Children do not necessarily understand that they are not responsible for having been exploited. When you help your child keep the blame on the perpetrator of the crime, you help maintain your child's self-esteem. This is essential for his or her continued healthy development.

You should remember, throughout the difficult and painful healing process, that YOU are the most important person in your child's life.

Some Parents Refuse to Believe That the Abuse Happened

When a parent denies the possibility that a child of their was abused, it is most painful for professionals dealing with abuse issues and, of course, for the child himself or herself.

If the perpetrator of the abuse is the partner, close friend, boss, parent, sibling - the parent may find it too threatening to believe that the abuse really happened. He or she may prefer to think that the child is making it all up or misunderstood the situation entirely.

There are professionals who specialize in working with parents who are in denial. If you suspect that there is a child being abused, you should report this case to the child protection worker in your area. Hopefully, a professional can be found who will be able to help.

Updated: 03/26/2014, Sheri_Oz
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katiem2 on 10/04/2012

This is a very important piece. I will be posting it EVERYWHERE. So many kids don't feel they can tell anyone. We've become a society who's both open to fixing things and yet at the same time I feel we've become a if it's not good don't say it society as we try hard to be a better more positive society. We have got to hear, deal with and cope with bad news as it's a constant reality we cannot nor will we ever be able to escape. :)K

Sheri_Oz on 10/02/2012

Being 'available' is certainly the most important quality in a parent and grandparent. Thanks for the comment.

samsons1 on 10/02/2012

Very good advice and well researched and written. As parents and grandparents, we must always be 'available', and listen completely with sincerity and understanding. Thank you so much for penning this...

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