My daughter's father did not respond to her sexual abuse


Dear Stop It Now!,

My daughter was 7 when her half-brother who was 12 raped her. She was at her father's house, and he told her she was a liar and that if she told anyone he would go back to prison and the police would take her away from me. Can charges still be filed?

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Dear Concerned Parent,

I'm so sorry to hear that your daughter was sexually abused and additionally, that when she spoke up, her father caused additional harm by calling her a liar and threatening her. I can only imagine how you must feel right now - frustrated, upset, angry, hurt - after hearing what your daughter has been through. When she spoke up, she should have been believed and action steps should have been taken to get help and to keep her safe immediately. Instead she was further hurt by the person who was meant to protect her. How brave she was in coming to you after all this. It's critical that you know that your daughter can get help to support her during this very difficult time.

Your question about charges is important and I'll get to that momentarily but of course and foremost, your daughter needs your support right now more than ever, and she needs to know that she did nothing wrong here. In fact, coming forward after her father treated her in this hurtful way was incredibly brave. Let her know you believe her, you're so sorry that this happened, that she didn't deserve to be treated this way, and that you're here to listen to anything she wants to share with you - and now that you know, you as her caring protective parent will do everything necessary to help her stay safe.

What is important is that your daughter gets professional healing resources to help her address what has happened to her, how these traumas may have impacted her. This most often includes counseling and potentially group support as well. If you go to her doctor to get her seen, you can ask for some referrals to someone who works with child survivors at her age, you can call her health insurance provider and ask for some names of local therapists who do this type of work, or find someone through her guidance counselor. Finding a therapist who has the right qualifications, skills, and personality is very important so that she can work with someone who she trusts, who she can open up to, and who can help her heal. If you find it useful, I'll leave our resource guide for Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused for you. 

Reporting and Medical Help
Although we are not a legal service and I'm not sure what type of charges can be brought against her half-brother, a first step can be to make a report to your local Child Protective Services (CPS) and the police. What her father did could be considered a separate form of abuse - threatening her to stay quiet, neglecting to get her medical attention, and then failing to get his son professional help which further put your daughter and other children in harm's way - and this is absolutely something CPS should know about, and something that should be taken seriously.

I'm not sure how long ago this occurred, but after an incident involving penetration, getting her seen by a doctor is also important to make sure that any concerns regarding her physical health are attended to. If this happened recently, it would be important for you to get her an appointment as soon as you can to get her seen by her pediatrician, or go to the hospital if you're noticing any signs of bleeding, scarring, bruising or an STI for immediate help. For more information, including the number for CPS where this occured, look through our pages on Reporting

Legal Support
After you report, you and your daughter may be able to access victim advocacy resources, like pro-bono legal help and other support (see more on our Legal and Advocacy page). If you don't want to wait, you can also seek out an attorney's advice now around how to proceed, how to protect your daughter, and what charges can be filed against her half-brother and/or her father. RAINN's page on the Laws in Your State may also start to shed light on some of the questions you have. My other concern would be her safety and overall health if she is in that household with her father, and this could be another thing you ask about. Although all current custody orders should be followed, it's possible you may want to ask a lawyer about a temporary emergency custody change so that she doesn't have to be around her father and half-brother right now, and so she is cared for by people who have her safety at the forefront.

Healing as a Parent
Finally, I also want to acknowledge how much this must have hurt you - to feel like you, too, were betrayed by the other person in the world who was supposed to protect your daughter. It's not easy to hear her share these things with you either, and in fact, it's vital that you have your own place to process how this has affected you. What does your support system look like? Have you been sharing what's going on with a close friend, spouse, faith leader, or therapist? Leaning on those close to you right now is important. And, for many people, it can also be extremely helpful to have a counselor to talk about all that's happened. You deserve a safe place to talk about how it's made you feel, this will help you continue to show up, as you have been, for your daughter. I've left some of our resource guides below that you may want to check out:

Take care,
Helpline Staff


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Last edited on: February 7th, 2022