Did I hear a child get abused?


Dear Stop It Now!,

I run an Airbnb and rent out my spare bedroom. I recently rented to a father and his daughter. The father told me was he recently divorced and that his house was being refinanced, so he needed a place for him and his daughter to stay for about a month. They moved into the spare bedroom and have been there for the last few days. Last night about midnight, I came home and when I went to my room, I heard some noises coming from their room. These noises weren't your normal conversation; it sounded more like grunts and moaning from a male. Needless to say, I don’t know what was going on but it didn’t sound like it was normal behavior and I don't know what to do as I do not have any proof of what was going on.

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Dear Concerned Adult,

It's really fantastic that you're paying attention and willing to speak up when something doesn't sit right with you. You are an important ally in children's safety. 

First, I want to acknowledge that there is no easy answer here. You heard something concerning and there are just so many variables that we don’t know – but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your gut instincts. Though you may not have a lot of contact with this father and his daughter, you may still want to take a look at these warning sign tip sheets – these Signs An Adult Is At-Risk To Harm A Child and these Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse and take some time to reflect on the interactions you’ve had with them already. As we say to many folks who write in to us, these tip sheets can often pick up on subtle behaviors that just didn’t sit right with them but that they couldn’t expressly name why they had felt that way.

You also don’t say how old this child is, so in addition to looking over the warning signs, you may want to consider the following or similar questions about this family that may signal a potential worrisome dynamic:

  • If this is an older child or teenager, is there only one bed and limited privacy in the space you rented them?
  • If this is a prepubescent child, does the child often have a lot of free time without parental oversight?
  • If this is an older child, are they always by their father’s side, seemingly having no autonomy or time to themselves?
  • Does this adult seem to have a partner or spouse-like dynamic with his daughter, a dynamic that would be more appropriate with an adult boyfriend/girlfriend? Like going on “dates” together, sharing his sexual history or inappropriate jokes with his daughter, talking about her in a sexualized way, or treating her like an adult confidant?

You may want to Keep a Journal of what you’re noticing. You can either use our tip sheets or a notebook you already have. Think about their routines, meal times and their interactions – are there other things that feel “off” even if they’re not on our warning sign tip sheets? 

You also could consider talking to this father and let him know that you heard unusual sounds the other night – and ask if everything is okay. It’s possible he would be able to give you more explanation for what you heard, or deny it altogether. If he were abusing his daughter, this may call out the fact that other folks can hear him and are concerned,  and that may give him pause to harm her again. The risk would also be that he would pack up and leave if he were sexually abusing her, but certainly his reaction to you and this situation would give you more information – and that could be something you call in to report.

I also do want to make sure that you know that you can always contact Child Protective Services (CPS) and talk to them about what you’re seeing. Although I don’t know if there would be enough to open an investigation, they may ask some questions to help you further your course of action. Our page on When and How to File a Report has more information.

You can also give us a call at 1.888.PREVENT as well anytime Monday thru Friday from 12p-6p ET, or you can start a chat with us via our Get Immediate Help page to further discuss what your concerns. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: August 29th, 2019