What should I do if I know a child has been abused?

Believe the child—children are rarely mistaken about what happened. One of the most important things a parent or adult can do when a child tells about sexual abuse is to respond to the child in a calm and matter-of-fact manner. Take a deep breath. Let the child know that no matter what happened or what he/she says, you will still love him/her.

If the child has been abused, take the time to reassure the child that he/she has done nothing wrong. Let the child know that you will do whatever you can to keep him/her safe. Let the child know you are someone he/she can safely talk to about this issue. Listen carefully to the responses without suggesting answers. It may be useful to practice with someone else first and get support to help keep your own emotions in check. Recognize that confusion, guilt, and shame about abuse can make the conversation difficult, both for you and for the child. Acknowledge the child’s discomfort and offer praise for their courage to talk about a confusing experience. Remember that if it’s difficult for you to discuss your concerns, it is likely to be much more difficult for the child.

Next, get help. The sexual abuse of children is against the law. It is important to seek professional help and not confront this alone. By taking action you may reduce the risk of others in your community or family from being sexually abused. Healing from child sexual abuse is possible with specialized treatment and support. There are resources throughout the country that can help a family through this difficult situation.

Reporting the abuse to authorities is an upsetting prospect for many families. Yet, filing a report can be a first step to accessing support services. Children who are abused and their families need help to recover from their trauma. Anyone who is harming a child sexually also needs help and support to stop the behavior.

For more information, guidance and resources, email or call the Helpline or visit our Online Help Center.

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