by Janet Pace, Clinician, Faces of Hope Foundation
It is estimated that one in four girls, and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Child sexual abuse is most often perpetrated by someone known and trusted by the child and the child’s family. Children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are 3-8 times more likely to be abused. Childhood sexual abuse is considered an Adverse Childhood Event (ACE) and the consequences can be devastating.
Survivors of child sexual abuse don’t always disclose what they experienced due to one or more of the following reasons:
- Being threatened or bribed by their abuser
- Fear of being blamed and getting in trouble
- Fear they will not be believed
- Fear the abuser may hurt them or their families
- Fear their disclosure will upset the family dynamics
- Fear of being taken away from their family
- Fear of upsetting their non-offending caregiver.
Abusers use subtle and gradual manipulation tactics that escalates over time as they build trust with kids and caretakers. Visit https://www.nationalcac.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/CSA-Perpetrators.pdf to learn more about how abusers use strategies and tricks to keep kids silent and avoid getting caught.
Given the reasons children avoid disclosing their abuse, it is no wonder child sexual abuse goes unreported. Many survivors of child sexual abuse keep their abuse history hidden well into their adult years. Therefore, it is important to act on abuse disclosures as soon as they happen.
If you are a parent or someone who works with children in any capacity, it is important to know how to respond if abuse is suspected or disclosed. Conversations involving allegations of abuse should always be handled with care.
Here are some points to remember when abuse is disclosed:
- Stay calm-even if you are shocked and upset. Losing control can cause the child to shut down and make it harder for them to divulge the information needed to take action.
- Let the child know the abuse was not their fault
- Thank the child for letting you know and praise the child for their bravery.
- Take immediate action to separate the child from their abuser.
- Immediately report the abuse to CPS and/or Law enforcement and wait for further instructions.
- Do not promise the child you won’t tell. You can say you will need to report it to someone who understands and helps people with this type of problem.
- Never blame or shame the child or tell them to take it back–even if you fear the consequences.
- Do not ask the child detailed or leading questions about the abuse; this could contaminate a potential investigation. If you need to gather additional information, keep it minimal and ask only brief, open-ended questions, (i.e., “tell me more about…” or “What happened?”).
- Do not confront the abuser or discuss the allegations with friends and family.
Research shows that healing tends to be quicker for children and adolescents whose parents and caregivers support and believe them. There are professionals in most communities who are trained in these situations and are ready to help. In Idaho, child abuse can be reported 24/7 by calling 2-1-1 or 1-855-552-5437 or contact local law enforcement.
Sources and further information: