How Can I Better Understand What My Child is Going Through?

When trying to understand what your child is going through, the most important thing is to realize just how complicated it is for children to talk about the abuse.  There are many reasons children are reluctant or unable to tell about sexual abuse. Here are some important things to remember about a child who is telling or attempting to tell.

Kids feel confused

  • Consider that the child may have wanted to tell about the abuse but felt trapped, or threatened either by what they were told would be the consequences for telling, or by what they imagined.
  • If you are a parent finding out about a disclosure made by your child to someone else, consider that the child may have been trying to protect you by not telling you first.
  • Recognize that a child may feel confused or ashamed by having experienced physical pleasure, arousal, or emotional intimacy from the abuse. This can be one of the most difficult realities for both victims and their supporters to understand and to come to terms with.
  • A child who has been abused may feel confused about who they can trust, including you.

Kids feel responsible

  • A child may think they won’t be believed or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and will be punished for it.
  • The child may still care about or feel protective of the person who sexually abused them, and may feel that they have betrayed this person by telling about the sexual contact.
  • A child may feel responsible for threats of violence or punishment directed at the person who abused them.
  • A child may believe that they permitted the abuse and should have been able to stop it. Remember that there are no situations where children are able to give informed consent to a sexual interaction with an adult or more powerful child.

Kids feel scared

  • Though they may not show it, a child breaking the silence may be terrified about what’s going to happen next. By disclosing, they may feel they’re giving away what little control they feel they have.
  • Consider that you may only be getting part of the story, as the child may be (consciously or unconsciously) testing you with an incomplete or indirect disclosure.
  • Out of fear or confusion about what will happen next, a child may take back or “recant” their disclosure.
  • The child may feel exposed and scared that their privacy will be violated yet again. Although a child may ask you not to tell anybody else about the abuse, it is important for them to know that this is not a secret you can keep. Explain that this information needs to be shared only with a few adults who can help so that things will get better and everyone can be safe again.
  • A child may look to your reaction for reassurance that they will be okay -- that their world is not falling apart.