Parental guidelines in case your child might someday be the victim of sexual abuse or exploitation. The instructions on this page provide information for the family and the school about what to do if a child indicates that he or she has been the victim of sexual abuse or exploitation. They are calm, straightforward instructions that will not alarm or frighten your child. We want families and children to be careful...we do not want them to be afraid.
There is always a chance that a child may disclose past acts of exploitation or general feelings of fear. If this happens, we want you to be prepared to help the child. How you react to a child's disclosure of sexual exploitation or fear is a very important part of child protection. Follow the guidelines below if a child indicates that he or she might have been the victim of sexual abuse or exploitation.
...panic or overreact to the information disclosed by the child. With your help and support, you will both make it through these difficult times.
...criticise the child. The worst thing you can do is to express anger at the child having violated previous instructions. Outbursts such as "I told you not to go into anyone's home!" will only hurt your ability to help.
Respect the child's privacy. Accompany the child to a private place where he or she can relate the story. Be careful not to discuss the incidents in front of people who do not need to know what happened.
Support the child and the decision to tell the story. It is normal for children to fear telling others - especially parents. Make it clear that telling you what happened was the right thing to do and that you will protect the child from future harm. Remember, often a child molester or exploiter will tell the child that bad things will happen if the child ever tells anyone what has happened. The child is especially fearful of punishment, panic, or the loss of the parents' love.
Show physical affection, and express your love and confidence with words and gestures. Avoid challenges starting with why, such as "Why didn't you tell me this before?" or "Why did you let it happen?" Give positive messages, such as "I'm proud of you for telling me this," "I'm glad it wasn't worse, or "I know you couldn't help it."
Explain to the child that he or she has done no wrong. The child may well have feelings of guilt and responsibility and assume that he or she is to blame for what happened. Most children are enticed or tricked into acts of exploitation, and they think they should have been smarter or stronger.
Remember that children seldom lie about acts of sexual exploitation. It is important that the child feel that you believe what he or she has told you.
Keep open the lines of communication with the child. In the future, it will be vitally important that the child believe that you are sympathetic, understanding, supportive, and optimistic so that he or she will be comfortable in making additional disclosures and in discussing feelings.
Steps to Take
1. If you think the child has been physically injured, seek out the appropriate medical attention. Remember, often we do not realize that a child who has been sexually exploited is also physically injured. Do not guess. Let the professionals make an independent judgement about treatment.
2. You must alert the child protection, youth services, child abuse, or other appropriate social services organizations. The police, sheriff's office, or other law-enforcement agency must also be notified.
3. Consider the need for counseling or therapy for the child. To ignore the incident, to sweep it under the rug, to act as if it did not happen is not going to help the child deal with the exploitation. In deciding what counselors to use, look for someone who is experienced in cases of sexual victimization. Ask about the number of children they have counseled.