What's the first step to take after abuse is suspected?


Dear Stop It Now!,

Should I take my son to get a physical exam for any signs of abuse before I file a report?

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Dear Concerned Parent,

I'm so sorry to hear that abuse has affected your family. It can be hard to know what to do first for your son, but I’m so glad you’ve reached out to us for more information and guidance.

Yes, if there are any physical signs of abuse it is important to get your son seen by a medical professional as soon as possible. However, you also don’t have to wait to make a report either. If your son has made a disclosure of abuse, if there are a pattern of Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse you noticed in him recently, or if there are physical signs of harm, you should call Child Protective Services (CPS). Typically they handle allegations of abuse by a caregiver, but they can advise you to contact the correct agency if they’re not the proper reporting body. I’ve included some links below that may help answer some commonly asked questions about this process. 

Most often sexual abuse doesn’t leave physical marks or “proof”, but if there are any physical signs you had noticed, or if your son is complaining of pain then you should get him seen by his pediatrician. You can call your son’s doctor and ask if they have time to see him for an emergency visit today. 

You would want to tell any medical professional what physical, emotional or developmental signs you had noticed in your son, rather than asking them to perform a sexual abuse examination, as this will allow them to do a thorough, non-judgmental, and comprehensive examination with the information they’ve been presented with. Then if your son were to make a disclosure, the doctors and nurses who see him would be mandated to make a call to CPS as well. 

Since being seen in the ER or even at the pediatrician can be a stressful time for a child – and I do want to reiterate that SANE nurses are specially trained to work with sexually abused children – it may be helpful to bring along something comforting for your son, especially if he were a young child. You may also want to walk him through some of these next steps your taking to help him understand what’s going on. You can let him know that this isn’t his fault and he’s not in trouble, but that it’s your job to keep him safe and healthy – and you need the help of just a few other professionals to make sure he’s okay right now. For more information, I’ve included some additional resources below that discusses how your son may be feeling, and what he needs to hear from you to help support his healing.

Right now you need to stay calm and steady for your son – as this will be critical to his recovery. However, this no doubt may be a very shocking time for you, and there are a rash of emotions that may be washing over you – fear, anger, confusion, sadness, guilt or a mix of all of these at once – but know that whatever you’re feeling is valid, normal and okay. This is why it’s so critical that you also find a place to talk and a shoulder to lean on right now. Is there someone in your life you can turn to? This person can be a friend, spouse, relative, or even a religious leader. It may even be necessary for you to talk to someone outside your immediate network, to get neutral guidance from a trained professional. Don’t be afraid to look for your own place to heal and talk in the form of a therapist. Finding Support for Yourself after Abuse is Disclosed can be vital to your own self-care. You may also want to browse through our guide specifically for Parents of Survivors as there you will find some specially compiled resources, tools, and peer-run support groups for parents of children who have been sexually abused.

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: November 6th, 2018