I can’t believe my sister would abuse my young son.

Dear Stop It Now!,
My young son said something that made me think that my sister who I love dearly is abusing him. But how do I know if my son is telling the truth? I can’t believe my sister would do that.

Dear Concerned Parent,
Many people have shared with us that they had no idea that a loved one could engage in sexually abusive behaviors.  You are not alone in having to look at the shocking notion that someone in your family may struggle with problem sexual behaviors. Unfortunately, the statistics do show us that many more children are abused by someone they know (and often trust and love) than by a stranger.

Have you noticed anything that concerns you about the way your sister acts around children?  Does she share too much information about her personal and intimate life? Are boundaries sometimes unclear with her? Please look at our Warning Signs, paying particular attention to behaviors to watch for when adults are with children  and signs that an adult is at risk to harm a child. These may help you identify potential problem areas with your sister. One behavior or one sign doesn’t mean that your sister is abusing your son but if you notice a pattern of behaviors or consistent signs, you want to respond appropriately and promptly.

As a response to concern about whether your son is safe, I’d like to recommend some safety planning that involves monitoring any time your son spends with his aunt.  For your sister’s protection, as well as for your son’s, they should not be alone together for the time being. Please review our prevention tip sheet Create a Family Safety Plan for additional recommendations regarding family safety planning.

Also, have you considered talking with your sister? While this may sound very difficult and scary, you can talk to her without making allegations. Guidance regarding this conversation is available in our guidebook, “Let’s Talk”. Highlighting your son’s safety in your conversation will help focus the conversation. You can assure your sister that you love her and will help her get help if there is a problem, while prioritizing your son’s safety. If you do decide to speak with your sister, please strongly consider having someone join you when you have this conversation. Is there someone who shares your concerns or can help support you if you talk with your sister about your concerns?

When a child tells about abuse, the way the parent responds can have a deep impact on the child’s ability to recover. It is important that you remain calm and let the child know that they did the right thing by telling you. Let the child know that you believe what they are telling you is true (even if it is hard for you to consider or accept). Assure the child that you will do whatever you can to prevent the abuse from happening again.  You must reassure the child (again and again, this is very important) that he or she is in no way to blame for the abuse and that it is the job of adults to keep him safe. Please review When a child tells about sexual abuse for more information and resources. You may also be interested in a reading list from the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute on recovery and support for child survivors and their families.

We know that your family can address and work through whatever may be going on. Seeking more information, even when it is very petrifying to do so, is important. Your son will benefit from your courageous attention to this.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: August 3rd, 2012