Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Care & Treatment Centre

Located at Brantford General Hospital
Call 519-751-5544, ext. 4449 or,
Visit the Brantford General Hospital Emergency Department, anytime, 24/7!

ONSADVTC_RGB-300dpi_E.jpg

Child Abuse

For Parents

This has been written to help parents deal with emotional issues that surface when a child discloses sexual abuse. It offers information to help you understand the complexity of child sexual abuse, to help you support your child through the initial crisis of disclosing the abuse, and to provide you and your child with some follow-up support and resources.

Hearing that your child has been sexually abused is one of the most difficult and painful experiences a parent can face. When you first find out, you will likely feel alone and isolated. Parents need not feel helpless and alone, as there are many supports available to help your family through this complex experience.

What is Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child. Such acts include fondling a child's genitals, getting a child to fondle an adult's genitals, mouth to genital contact, rubbing an adult's genitals against a child or actually penetrating a child's vagina or anus.

Who Are the Abusers?

Boys and girls are most often abused by adults or older children whom they know and who can control them. They are usually people who have easy access to the child, such as parents, siblings, uncles, grandfathers, neighbours and babysitters. The child in most cases knows the abuser and is often an authority figure the child trusts or loves. The child is usually persuaded or coerced, bribed or threatened to engage in the sexual activity.

Children are easy targets of sexual abuse because they trust and depend upon adults. Sexual abuse has many forms and can be so subtle that a child may not know what is happening, just that he or she is uncomfortable with it.

Hugging and touching are normal expressions of friendship, team spirit, love and affection. They make us feel good about others and ourselves. But there are individuals who exploit children for sexual pleasure or gratification.

Some children tell their parents or caregivers that they have been abused immediately after the abuse happens; others may not. Some children are too young to understand what has happened and therefore do not think about or are able to tell. Other children may hold onto their secret for an indefinite period of time. When they do disclose, they may not tell everything at once; they may tell only a little at a time.

Upon learning that a child has been sexually assaulted, it is often difficult for parents to understand why their children didn't tell them right away, or why the child may have told someone else instead. Children will often tell a teacher or a friend first. This is not unusual for a child to do and does not mean that your child does not love or trust you.

Telling or disclosing to others may mean many things. For example, it may be that your child does not want to worry you. Your child may be embarrassed or may feel that you will not be able to handle the truth or what has happened. Your child may have been threatened not to tell, or the abuser may have threatened to harm you if your child were to tell you about the abuse.

The sexual abuse of children is a very complex issue that becomes even more complex when it happens within the home. When someone living in you home sexually abuses a child, life often becomes more emotionally charged and difficult to sort out as other issues come up. In cases where the offender is your partner, you may experience additional reactions:

  • Desire to protect your partner: this response is especially acute in situations where the child's offender is remorseful for what they have done.
  • Jealousy: it is not unusual for mothers to feel jealous of the sexual relationship that their children have had with their partners.
  • Sexual inadequacy or rejection: you may think that you were not sexually attractive or available enough and that was what caused your partner to seek out your child. This is not true. It was your partner who abused your child: your sexual qualities were not a factor in it.
  • Betrayal: you may feel hurt and betrayed by your partner and your child. You may experience intense pain for the sexual activity your child was force into. You may feel it was done deliberately to hurt you. The secrecy and lies, which surrounded the sexual abuse, may be especially hard to cope with.
  • Fear: your child's disclosure may bring up many fears. You may feel afraid, inadequate, and incapable of managing alone. It may bring up painful memories, such as helplessness and humiliation from you own childhood, a large percentage of mothers of sexually abused children were themselves sexually abused in childhood .
  • Distance: a feeling of being separated from people and events around you. This may be your way of stepping back and looking at what is happening.
  • Disbelief: you may keep asking yourself and others, “is this real? Is this really happening? How could this be possible? Am I having a bad dream?” this usually gives way to other feelings in a short time.
  • Denial: this is one way we protect ourselves from the pain of the truth. You may feel torn between believing your child or the abuser, especially if the abuser denies the things your child disclosed. You may need time to work through your resistance to accepting that the abuse took place. Children do not lie about sexual abuse. Accept as fact whatever your child says and let him or her know that you believe them and will do everything possible to protect them.
  • Anger: many parents feel a generalized anger toward everyone around them. Others are angry with someone specific: the abuser for violating their child or their child. Directing anger at your child will make your child believe he or she is to blame for the sexual abuse.

What You May Be Feeling

As you go through the process of understanding and dealing with the sexual abuse of your child, you may encounter a variety of feelings and responses.

You may experience feelings similar to those of a person who has lost a loved one through separation or death. When a loved one is gone, you have no control over the situation, just as you had no control over the offender and the abusive behavior. You may not only grieve for the hurt to your child, but, if the abuser is close to you, you may also grieve losing the relationship you had with the abuser.

Your own reactions may vary according to other factors in you life; current problems you may be experiencing; whether you were sexually abused yourself as a child; the kind of relationship you had with the abuser; whether you have friends or family to turn to for support; what values and beliefs you hold. You may find it impossible to believe that such a thing could have happened, and you may want to deny that the abuse is true.

Dealing with what has happened may lead you to feel some or all of the following reactions;

  • Numbness: inability to feel any emotion at all, a lack of both emotional and physical feelings, a feeling of being in shock.
  • Distance: a feeling of being separated from people and events around you. This may be your way of stepping back and looking at what is happening.
  • Disbelief: you may keep asking yourself and others, “is this real? Is this really happening? How could this be possible? Am I having a bad dream?” this usually gives way to other feelings in a short time.
  • Denial: this is one way we protect ourselves from the pain of the truth. You may feel torn between believing your child or the abuser, especially if the abuser denies the things your child disclosed. You may need time to work through your resistance to accepting that the abuse took place. Children do not lie about sexual abuse. Accept as fact whatever your child says and let him or her know that you believe them and will do everything possible to protect them.
  • Anger: may parents feel a generalized anger toward everyone around them. Others are angry with someone specific: the abuser for violating their child or their child. Directing anger at your child will make your child believe he or she is to blame for the sexual abuse.
  • Guilt and self-blame: you may be overcome with feeling the abuse was your fault. Blaming yourself in any way is unproductive and does not help you or your child. Remember, you did not commit the abuse and you are not responsible for it.
  • Find support for yourself. Having someone to talk to is essential. Call someone who will be sensitive and able to provide helpful information.
  • Follow-up by seeking special support for your child. Many parents feel they are totally responsible for meeting all their children's needs. Outside help is recommended for the whole family to help you understand and cope, especially if your child is a teenager. The teen years can be difficult to get through at the best of times. Community persons specially trained to work with families and children of all ages affected by sexual abuse can be invaluable at this time.

You may be so angry that you will find it difficult to follow the suggestions in this booklet. Although reactions of fear or anger are normal, they can also frighten your child. Try to remain calm and communicate to you child that you are not upset or angry with him or her.

Listen carefully to what your child is saying, but resist the instinct to try to find out all the details. Your child needs comfort since he or she may be emotionally upset or confused about what has happened.

Even if you know who the alleged abuser is, do not take the law into your own hands by confronting the person. This could jeopardize any investigation or court case that may arise. Call the police or social service agency in your community immediately. They can take necessary action to protect your child.

What Your Child May Be Feeling

  • Fear is one reaction your child may have – he or she may have been threatened to keep the abuse a secret and may be afraid the abuser's threats may now come true.
  • Your child may be afraid of being punished for doing something wrong.
  • Your child may be afraid of being rejected by you or the abuser.
  • He or she may feel other people will treat them differently if they find out about the abuse.
  • Your child may be afraid of upsetting you or breaking up the family.
  • He or she may not understand why this has happened.
  • He or she may be confused if the abuser was someone known or trusted.
  • Your child may be confused because of conflicting feelings of both love and hate towards the abuser.
  • He or she may know the abuse was wrong, but may be confused because some of it felt nice and the attention felt good.
  • Your child may feel that he or she was to blame for the abuse.

How to Respond to Your Child

The best way to respond to your child is to listen carefully to what your child says and to be attentive to his or her behaviour. Show your concern. Ask if anything is the matter, but do not press for an answer. Let your child know that you are ready to listen at any time.

If your child tells you about sexual abuse, support your child:

  • Talk to your child in private- when your child discloses sexual abuse, take him or her to a quiet place. Allow your child to tell what happened in his or her own words in his or her own time, without pressing for details. It is important not to “interview” your child. Persons trained to do this best handle detailed questioning. Be aware that your child may feel some hostility towards you; he or she may feel that you failed to protect them. If you have other children who may have had contact with the abuser, be sure to talk to each of them. Abusers rarely abuse only one child.
  • Listen to your child – accept what your child is telling you even if it is difficult for you to believe the identity of the alleged abuser, or that the sexual abuse took place. Comfort your child by saying that it is good that you were told. Reassure him or her that telling was the right thing to do. Be sure to reinforce that it was not your child's fault. Let your child know that you will do whatever possible to protect him or her from being abused again.
  • Let your child know that you are proud of him or her for having the courage to tell you about the abuse.
  • Remain calm and don't overreact – you may feel angry. If so, make it clear that your anger is not directed toward your child. Tell your child that what happened is not his or her fault. They need to know that the alleged abuser has done something wrong and needs help.
  • Reassure your child – talking to someone about what happened is likely to cause some degree of anxiety for your child. Your supportive reaction will help your child cope with any feelings of confusion or guilt. Let your child know that you will do something to help. Depending on your child's age, you may be able to explain that you will talk to other people who know what to do in these situations, and that they will help too.
  • Call for assistance immediately: the police, the local child protection agency, or a similar social services organization in the community are prepared to help at any time, day or night. They have staff who are specially trained to deal with complaints of child sexual abuse.

Resources for Parents

Sexualt Assault/Domestic Violence Care Team
Brant Community Healthcare System
519-751-5544, ext. 4449
Brant Children's Aid
519-753-8681
Family Counselling Centre
519-753-4173
Ohsweken Children's Aid
519-445-2247

Ganohkwasra (Crisis Line)
519-445-4324

Contact Brant
519-758-8228

Sexual Assault Centre of Brant (Crisis Line)
519-751-3471
 
Designed By  Blueprint Agencies