Can mom get teen son help without a report being filed?


Dear Stop It Now!,

A 13 year old boy sexually abused his younger sister and the mom wants to get him into therapy and out of the home. She fears losing her other children if she reports the incident to authorities and she is aware that any therapist she goes to with her son will be required to report the abuse. It is vital this kid get into therapy and I suspect he is a victim himself. Are there any therapy programs available for him that won't need to report him. He needs serious help not jail.

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Dear Concerned Bystander,

When a child does something that crosses sexual boundaries, it’s important that loving adults respond with compassion – and with safety at the forefront. Many parents worry about the involvement of the authorities, but I am going to talk you through some next steps that may help this family get the help that they need in a way that allows them feel in control.

Youths Sexually Harmful Behaviors
In understanding what happened, first we need to understand that youth’s sexual behaviors – though they can look similar to adults’ – may come up for different reasons. And when a child is doing something that is sexually harmful with another child, we want to look at the type of supports they need to be safe. I don’t know what happened between these children, but we typically let the legal and clinical world define what is sexually abusive between children, and thus I would tend to not label this boy as an offender. Children and youth may struggle with inappropriate sexual behaviors for many reasons, and finding appropriate specialized therapeutic support is a necessary next step. Check out the resources below to help parents and loving caregivers demystify this topic. 

It is not a given that this young teen will be charged with a crime. There are many other factors that will need to be considered, such as the ages of the children involved and the exact nature of what happened. One recommendation we often have for parents in this situation is think about being the first folks to contact Child Protective Services (CPS). This can help parents stay more in control of the process. The goal of CPS is not to remove children from their homes, but to provide supports to a family when they need them, including help if a child was a victim of sexual abuse and/or harming others. CPS may also be able to help this family think about safety within the home now. Often, when a parent can make the report themself to CPS, this  helps them stay more in control of their family situation should CPS actually become involved. So, a good next step may be for this mother to call CPS herself, perhaps with your support. She can let them know what she just found out, and then talk about all the important steps she’s taking – like getting counseling involved for both children, safety planning and supervision changes. She also can ask them for additional resources to support her family. 

Support Through Therapy
In terms of therapeutic support, it is important for this mom to get her son a counselor who specializes in working with adolescents and sexual behavior concerns. I’ll include our resource guide for parents of Youth Struggling with Unsafe or Harmful Sexual Behaviors, as there is a wealth of information there that may help. The resource most likely to help with finding a treatment referral would be The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers’ (ATSA) Referral Request Page. ATSA is a member agency of professionals who work with children, adolescents and adults who are engaging in risky, problematic, harmful or abusive behaviors. This type of targeted counseling can help her son, and many therapists who work with sexual behavior problems also work with those who have experienced abuse themselves. 

Planning for Safety
Next, let’s talk about safety. Supervision may change considering the circumstances. Right now it would be important to make sure that this 13 year-old is never alone or left in a position of power (like babysitting) around younger kids. He should never be unsupervised with his younger sister, even if just to get a drink of water. A family safety plan can help with this. Safety planning is a comprehensive set of guidelines that outlines the type of physical touch, privacy and appropriate boundaries that are to be followed by everyone (children and adults). I’ll include some resources on this that would be helpful to share with this parent. 

Healing the Child Who Experienced Harm
The other important piece in this is this mom's daughter’s wellbeing. How has she been doing? Responding to her with compassion and support are also needed. She needs to be reassured this is not her fault and she isn’t in trouble. There can be a lot of different and conflicting emotions that she may be wrestling with too. If she were a younger child, it’s possible that she may not seem affected – she may want to continue to play with her brother as before. There is no one expected outcome. But it can also be a good idea to get her a counselor too, especially if there were any new changes this parent had noticed, like these Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse. Our pages from Children Who Experienced Sexual Harm or Abuse may be beneficial for her to browse through.

Support for this Parent
Finally, this mom needs to know she’s not the only one going through this. We hear from many parents who feel like they’re in a silo – because children’s harmful sexual behaviors aren’t talked about. She’s not alone, but she may want to find her own therapist so that she can have a place away from her children to fully process all her feelings: anger, shame, fear, anxiety, confusion – these are all normal and okay. An important step in this family’s healing will be that this mom also has places she can turn. She may even find Karen’s Story or Kay's Story helpful. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: February 10th, 2020