My godson denies abusing his brother.
Dear Stop It Now!,
My godson is accused of performing oral sex on his 8 year old half-brother. He says it never happened. Where do we go from here? I need help and guidance...what do we do?
Dear Concerned Godparent,
Thanks so much for reaching out to us. I can understand how concerned you are about all of this. So many caring adults write in to us with similar concerns, wondering what might happen, if a child is telling the truth, and where to go next.
When a Child Discloses
First, please know that even though in this instance it is really difficult to accept, children rarely lie about someone doing something sexually inappropriate, harmful, or abusive to them. So I would encourage you to believe his half-brother. Children have such a different (and much less developed) understanding about sex and sexuality than adults. And, children don’t have the knowledge about sex and sexuality to make something up like this - this isn’t like a fairy or unicorn this child might read about in a children’s book. That is why, when a child as young as eight years old discloses an incident that involves a sexually mature act, it is important to pay attention to this and to believe what they are saying.
Understanding Child Sexual Behaviors
Just like a child’s understanding of sexuality is different from an adult’s, so are children’s sexual behaviors. Some youth may enact sexually harmful or inappropriate behavior for so many different reasons, and all of these reasons are very different from when an adult chooses to sexually abuse a child. Sometimes youth might behave in a sexually harmful manner to relieve stress, due to a learning disability, or in an attempt to mimic something they say in a movie, on television, or even on YouTube or somewhere else online. Other times youth use a younger child to experiment with behaviors they are curious about. And, unfortunately sometimes children can behave in these ways due to their own abuse. Since this topic is so complex, I’ve included some additional information below.
This information above doesn’t excuse your godson’s behavior, but rather this means that he could really benefit from re-established safety rules, getting some answers to potential questions, and maybe even some further supports. I also am not sure of your godson’s age, and this could also make a difference in understanding what might have been going on with him.
Talking to a Youth with Unsafe Behaviors
Though I’m not sure if you are your godson’s primary caregiver right now or if you are just a caring adult in his life, either way you can help him adjust to whatever comes next. Check in with him. Explain that you want to make sure he knows that you love and care about him. Tell him that you know being a kid is difficult, and we might make mistakes and do things that we later see were not the wisest choices. Say something like, "I know you have been saying you didn’t do this, but I believe what your half-brother has said. I want you to know that it is not safe nor appropriate to put anyone’s genitals in your mouth. And, no one should be asking you to do that to them, either." Then, tell him that you love him so much. Make sure he knows that he can ask you anything, even if he’s worried that he did something wrong or he feels like he might get in trouble. Talk about how all the adults in his life only want the best for him. Even though you don’t share how old he is, all youth struggle with finding their way. Reflect love and caring towards him. That is so needed right now.
Moving Towards Safety
Next, caregivers will want to re-establish safety. This way your godson can get clearer information about what is and isn’t appropriate. And, this will help you and other loving caregivers determine whether follow-up supports, like a specialized therapist, are needed. If inappropriate behavior like this does not stop after safety planning and redirection, it is important to seek out additional support. And, many families choose this type of support proactively. So, if you notice that this happens again, or if you have any other concerns about the way he plays with his half-brother or any other younger child, after talking with him and clarifying the family safety planning rules then it would make sense to seek out a therapist for him. Finding a specialized professional may be helpful in making sure your godson has a neutral place to work towards healing which addresses his needs. You can seek out a therapist through your health insurance, his doctor, or even a local mental health agency. For more information, think about taking a look at this resource guide all about Finding Professional Treatment and Support.
To re-establish safety, his parents and you can review the family safety planning rules. Safety Planning articulates the guidelines all children and adults are expected to respect, and it shows them how they should expect to be treated by others as well. Safety planning encompasses rules about healthy sexuality, internet safety, body boundaries, respect, and consent. This is a great way to get everyone on the same page about body boundaries, and is often useful because it doesn’t single any one person out. Having these guidelines in place can also make it easier to discuss any unsafe behavior in the future by addressing the rule that has been broken. Moving forward, please do what you can to ensure that your godson is always supervised by an adult when he is around his half-brother or other youth. This way, an adult can intervene if something comes up, and they can make sure safety planning rules are being followed otherwise.
An important aspect of safety planning is education about healthy sexuality. So, you and your godson’s parents may also want to make sure that your godson has places where he can get answers safely. I’ve included some additional resources below you may want to check out and pass on to his parents, who can share these with him if these are appropriate for his age and stage.
- Sex, Etc.: An organization by teens for teens that has articles and videos on identity, masturbation, sex, and what’s normal and healthy for your body
- Scarlateen: A sexuality and relationships education and support organization for youth and young adults.
- Amaze: Amaze is an educational resource tool for both children and teens ages about their bodies. It helps parents get this important dialogue started with fun and informational videos that youth can watch on their own time.
I’m wondering, how is his half-brother doing? Children are resilient, and since each child reacts differently to events like these, this may or may not be something that he finds significant. Keep an eye out for any changes in his mood or behavior like these Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse as that would be the best way to tell whether any additional supports are needed. He too may benefit from working with a therapist. Sometimes it’s a good idea for parents to speak to a therapist first and together, a decision can be made about what type of supports would be most helpful or necessary. Also, this little boy’s pediatrician could be made aware of what has happened and could potentially be helpful in determining needs and next steps.
Finally, if a therapist or physician is told about an incident that involves mature sexual behavior, or an incident that involved sexual behavior from a child over 12 years-old to a child under 12, they would possibly be mandated to make a report to the local Child Protection Services (CPS). This may sound very scary but often CPS can help parents locate services and plan for safety. In fact, we often encourage parents and other involved adults to make these calls first - this way, if a mandated reporter does end up filing, CPS will have already heard form involved adults and caregivers in these child’s lives. You and these parents can let CPS know what was disclosed, and all the important steps you’re taking – like safety planning, whether you plan to get counselors involved, and any additional supervision changes as well. For more information, please see our links on Reporting.
I’m sure that this is a very overwhelming time for you right now, too. It’s completely normal to feel a variety of mixed emotions – all of your feelings are valid and okay. For your godson’s wellbeing, it would be helpful for you and other loving allies to keep your strong opinions to yourself, but that does not mean that you should bottle these up; it is just as important for caregivers to also have somewhere (friend, family, member of the clergy, or their own professional) to lean on after an incident like this.
Stop It Now!
Last edited on: June 18th, 2020