Do my daughter’s dreams mean she was sexually abused?

Dear Stop It Now!

My daughter told her mom that in her nightmares, someone is touching her privates. She seems happy and unafraid to see anyone or go to either my house or her mom's. The only indicator as far as I know is her dreams and she had told her mom that her privates were a little sore. The next morning she was fine and the irritation was gone. I had her that entire day so I know that nothing had happen in the 12 hours leading up to her saying something to her mom. Do I need to do more such as start a formal investigation or should I just be more aware of any potential problems and keep a close eye on things ?

Dear Concerned Parent,

Paying attention to what your daughter is saying is certainly a strong protective action. While a “formal” investigation may not be indicated or necessary at this time, it is important to continue to pay attention to her behaviors and mood, as you are doing.

Warning signs

It sounds like her dream is the only warning sign you’re seeing, however you might want to take a look at the warning signs that may indicate abuse to help you know what else may be a signal. Certainly, a single sign is not necessarily meaningful, but seeing a group of them could be concerning and call for follow-up.

Whenever a child complains of a physical ailment, checking in with the pediatrician may be the best course of action to allow parents reassurance that all is ok. Even though her irritation quickly vanished, it may still be worth a quick visit to the doctor.

Talking to your daughter

Additionally, you may want to do ask some gentle, non-frightening questions of your daughter to see if you can gather any other information, such as “wow, did that ever happen in real life?”. It’s important to try and not pass on any fear or anxiety onto your daughter. Seeing an adult’s anxiety can make a child close down or say what she thinks the adults want her to say.

And should you hear something that concerns you and increases your suspicion of possible abuse, child protective services recommend ending the questions and contacting them for further assistance. For more information about asking questions, please see Talking to your child if you suspect they have been sexually abused, published by RAINN.

Understanding environmental influences

As you think about your daughter’s environment, you may want to consider if there are other influences that could possibly explain this dream. For example, with child sexual abuse frequently talked about in the media, is it possible that she may have overheard discussions somewhere in her environment? More examples can be found on our Online Help Center under Understanding what makes kids vulnerable to being sexually abused.

As a responsive and proactive parent, I would also like to invite you to review our resources on safety planning, included in the links below.

I hope this information is helpful. Thank you for writing.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: April 12th, 2013