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My son's friend disclosed his dad abused him, what do I do?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

My son came home and told us that his friend from school told him that his dad makes him do things that he doesn’t want to do. He imitated sexual intercourse while explaining this to us. My son told him to report him but the friend said that he doesn’t want his dad to be taken away. Also he told my son not to tell. What next steps should I take?

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Parent,

I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to this little boy. It speaks to your son’s character that he is someone his friend trusts enough to talk about something so personal and private, and that in turn, your son then spoke up to you. Understandably, this may leave you with many feelings and questions, but I’m glad you’ve reached out to us.

First, your son should know that he absolutely did the right thing by telling this to you. This may have been difficult for him, especially since his friend asked him to keep this secret. It sounds like he knew that secrets shouldn’t be kept, as often secrets hurt someone – and he needed to talk to a trusted adult. Now it’s vital that you speak up as well; your son needs to see you take action as what he’s described is Sexually Abusive.

It’s not uncommon for a child – just like this boy – to not want his father to get in trouble. Our founder, Fran Henry, felt similarly. She wished that the abuse by her dad would just stop. Unfortunately it may not without intervention, and what this really means is that this child needs help to get out of this unsafe situation, and that this father needs treatment to learn safer behaviors. Adults need to speak up on behalf of the children in their lives, and sometimes it does mean Making Difficult Decisions to report unsafe behavior. It’s completely normal to be Afraid About What Could Happen if You File a Report, but the consequences of not speaking up may be even greater. 

A good next step would be to contact Child Protective Services (CPS) and give them the same information your son has given you about his friend’s father’s abusive behavior. When calling CPS it can be helpful to gather all the relevant details beforehand so you can feel more comfortable in the moment. For more information on this process, I’ve left some information below. For the number for CPS in your state visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway's State Child Abuse and Neglect Numbers page.

You may also want to contact your son’s school to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on. Although I’m unsure if they’d be able to take action on this child’s behalf, they may be able to help monitor your son for any changes throughout the day, and even see him if needed. Often this can be confusing or overwhelming for the children involved, too. It’s also possible that the school may have noticed Warning Signs in his friend’s behavior, and perhaps they’d also be able to make a report if they had ongoing concerns.

Now may also be a great time to review your family safety plan. Safety Planning articulates the guidelines about body boundaries, privacy, respect, and consent to your son, and asks caregivers to model and respect these healthy boundaries too. This helps your son learn what’s okay and helps him better recognize when something is not okay no matter where he is or who he is with. It sounds like you may have been doing this already, so I encourage you to keep it up.

Finally, I want to make sure everyone is able to have resources to heal. Many people after hearing about a disclosure may choose to seek out their own support to help them understand and process something so jarring. I encourage you to reach out to someone close to you: a spouse, friend, professional, relative, or even a member of the clergy for support through this difficult time. Also, please monitor your son for any ongoing concerns, like any changes in his mood, behavior or development that would signify that he was struggling with hearing his friend’s disclosure, and follow up as needed with outside supports.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: July 2nd, 2018