child tells an adult that he or she has been sexually abused,
the adult may feel uncomfortable and may not know what to
say or do. The following guidelines should be used when responding
to children who say they have been sexually abused:
to Say If a child even hints in a vague way that sexual
abuse has occurred, encourage him or her to talk freely. Don't
make judgmental comments.
that you understand and take seriously what the child is
saying. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have found that
children who are listened to and understood do much better
than those who are not. The response to the disclosure of
sexual abuse is critical to the child's ability to resolve
and heal the trauma of sexual abuse.
the child that they did the right thing in telling. A child
who is close to the abuser may feel guilty about revealing
the secret. The child may feel frightened if the abuser
has threatened to harm the child or other family members
as punishment for telling the secret.
the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual
abuse. Most children in attempting to make sense out of
the abuse will believe that somehow they caused it or may
even view it as a form of punishment for imagined or real
offer the child protection, and promise that you will promptly
take steps to see that the abuse stops.
Report any suspicion of child abuse. If the abuse is
within the family, report it to the local Child Protection
Agency. If the abuse is outside of the family, report it to
the police or district attorney's office. Individuals reporting
in good faith are immune from prosecution. The agency receiving
the report will conduct an evaluation and will take action
to protect the child.
should consult with their pediatrician or family physician,
who may refer them to a physician who specializes in evaluating
and treating sexual abuse. The examining doctor will evaluate
the child's condition and treat any physical problem related
to the abuse, gather evidence to help protect the child, and
reassure the child that he or she is all right.
who have been sexually abused should have an evaluation by
a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental
health professional to find out how the sexual abuse has affected
them, and to determine whether ongoing professional help is
necessary for the child to deal with the trauma of the abuse.
The child and adolescent psychiatrist can also provide support
to other family members who may be upset by the abuse.
most allegations of sexual abuse made by children are true,
some false accusations may arise in custody disputes and in
other situations. Occasionally, the court will ask a child
and adolescent psychiatrist to help determine whether the
child is telling the truth, or whether it will hurt the child
to speak in court about the abuse.
child is asked as to testify, special considerations--such
as videotaping, frequent breaks, exclusion of spectators,
and the option not to look at the accused--make the experience
much less stressful.
because of their maturity and knowledge, are always the ones
to blame when they abuse children. The abused children should
never be blamed.
child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring
response is the first step in getting help for the child and
reestablishing their trust in adults.
Facts for Families, #5 "Child Abuse: The Hidden Bruises,"
#9 "Child Sexual Abuse," #70 "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD)," and #52 "Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation." Your
Child (1998 Harper Collins)/Your Adolescent (1999
#28 Updated 11/99