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What to do when your child has been sexually abused?

Gayatri Aiyyar tells you what to do when the worst has happened.

Written by Gayatri Ayyer |Updated : September 26, 2014 10:59 AM IST

Child sex abuseAs part of the child sex abuse series, I've talked about child sex abuse and tips to prevent it. This article will discuss what to do when the worst has happened. Parents and guardians, when they discover that their child has been abused go through emotional upheaval themselves. A lot of questions and doubts bombard them How can this have happened to my child? I took so many precautions! Can I believe my child? It's not possible that XYZ could have done this he/she is so loving and affectionate! What do I do now? Should we report or keep quiet? Who will believe us? What about our status/reputation in our family/community? What about the reputation of the child?

In reaction to answering these questions or doubts, we forget the trauma the child faces and the psychological and emotional impact on the child in the years to come. Remember CSA has long-lasting effects that follow the child into adulthood and all their relationships.

Let's see step by step, as parents what you can do to help your child or other children you know who are being or have been abused.

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Proving child sex abuse

In most cases of non-penetrative CSA or when the child has been exposed to pornographic material, it is difficult to prove CSA as children may be afraid or hesitant to talk about their experiences. Sexual abuse is usually discovered in one of two ways:

  • Direct disclosure (the victim, victim's family member or parent seeking help makes a statement)
  • Indirect methods (words of the witness; if the victim's friend talks about the abuse; the child contracts a sexually transmitted disease or she becomes pregnant)

Proving that a child has been sexually abused does become a problem sometimes if the child shows no physical evidence of abuse. Behavioural or emotional changes in the child are exhibited at a later stage, by which time the perpetrator has escaped or the abuse has become an on-going issue. Since the child is the only witness to the abuse, the child's statement becomes the only evidence. This brings up the issue whether the child can be trusted.

When there has been a history of the child resorting to lying or manipulative behaviours, the child is not believed and his/her statement is rejected. Still it's imperative to believe the child. Once the child feels that at least one adult (parent/guardian/relative/sibling) believes his/her story, the child experiences relief at that time when the child is emotionally vulnerable. This will help the child cope better with the trauma and effects of CSA could be reduced.

Also as children's communication patterns are not as developed as adults, the adults may misinterpret what the child is trying to convey. In case of doubt, its best for parents and teachers should seek help from trained psychologists and trained medical professionals, to determine if abuse has occurred or on-going.

What should parents or near and dear ones do if a child has been sexually abused?

First and foremost, try to understand what the child is saying and believe that the child is telling you the truth, even if there have been instances of the child lying or making stories in the past. I will reiterate that in case of doubt, seeking help from a psychologist or medical professional, trained in identifying cases of sexual abuse is of utmost importance.

Give your child a safe environment

Give the child a safe environment in which to talk to you or another trusted adult. Encourage the child to talk about what he or she has experienced. Be careful not to suggest events to him or her that may not have happened. Many parents tend to panic and encourage the child to suppress or forget the abuse happened. The child can be influenced by the parents' reaction to the disclosure. This could prove extremely harmful, leading to a lot of psychological problems. It's imperative that parents stay calm and focused and try to get as many details as possible from the child, without pressurising the child.

Tell the child it's not his/her fault

Children tend to feel guilty due to the abuse. Reassure the child that he or she did nothing wrong and that they are not responsible for what had happened to them. Seek counselling for the child from a trained psychologist, who has the experience of dealing with CSA issues. They can help the child cope with the feelings of guilt, fear and the trauma of the abuse to reduce possibilities of long term effects of abuse.

Get a medical exam done

Arrange for a medical examination for the child from an expert who has dealt with CSA before. It's best if the parent and medical professional explains to the child about the medical procedure beforehand. Explaining the difference between medical procedure and the abuse can reduce trauma for the child. Untrained medical professionals are usually rough and use unnecessary intrusive methods which could be further traumatic for the children.

Also read:

Child sex abuse it's very much there

How to prevent child sex abuse

Dealing with child sex abuse the legal options

Life after child sex abuse

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