Facing the Practical Difficulties of Speaking Up

Family fallout - Ruptured relationships

When someone takes the risk of speaking up on behalf of a child often other relationships are impacted. When planning to speak about the sexual abuse of a child we anticipate that our relationship with a spouse, family friend, in-law, grandparent, church, school, or baby sitter is going to get complicated and more difficult. Sadly, other times those adult relationships remain in tact and the child’s welfare is compromised because the adult relationship is given priority.

Most of us know that speaking up about abuse may throw a family into turmoil, and that some important relationships can be changed or lost. It can be devastating to think that by speaking up we can lose people whom we care about, love or depend on. But if we don’t speak up we are making the decision that our adult relationships are more important to us than the safety of a vulnerable child. 

For adults and children, the loss of relationships to people we care about can be one of the most devastating aspects of speaking up about child sexual abuse. A hero is someone who sacrifices something that is important to them for someone or something else. Many adults recognize that they must be willing to risk a relationship with a spouse, family member or friend in order to intervene on a child’s behalf. Often there are many relationships to heal in order for a family to recover from the significant impact of sexual abuse. Although it may not feel like it right now, over time, and although changed, many relationships can and do heal.

Possible Legal Consequences

Because of the current political and legal climate, and the stigma surrounding those convicted of child sexual abuse, some people who may want to reach out for help, will not do so. The prospect of someone “losing their whole life” and everything that they know is just too daunting. Looking ahead at the possibility of a charge, conviction, or registry status is enough to keep families underground. Sadly, the threat that the person abusing will go to jail is often presented to the child or other family members as a way to keep them silent.

Although the prospect of legal consequences can be scary, being able to take responsibility for the abuse is the first step towards recovery for the abuser. When a victim can see that the person who has abused them is holding themselves accountable, this can have a positive impact on the survivor’s recovery as well. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that when someone who abuses a child comes forward, the abuse stops, specialized treatment can start and healing can begin.

Potential Financial Trouble

When abuse occurs within a family a practical consideration for many adults is how the family will be impacted financially. Will the cost of specialized therapy be covered by insurance? If parents need to separate, how will housing be managed? Would financial support be cut off from the protective parent? If there is a charge and conviction of some kind how will the family manage without the income of the person who could be removed from the household? These are hard questions with no simple answers.

Concern about possible financial troubles can sometimes delay a parent’s protective response. Privately, some adults may feel selfish for considering potential financial hardships when sexual abuse occurs within the family – yet it is a practical matter that must also be managed. The priority is the emotional and physical safety of children who can only be protected by the adults who love them. Many families endure financial hardships out of a commitment to protect their children.