Any crisis in a family brings with it a process of grief and healing. If you have experienced a family crisis before - a divorce or the unexpected illness of child, for example - you probably remember feeling shock and disbelief at first. Then perhaps you just wanted to get back to normal, and finally, the family adjusted to the changes. In some ways, a sexual assault is like any other crisis, and in some ways it is different.
If your child has been sexually assaulted, you may be concerned about
- How to talk with your child about what has happened. Talking with your child about sexual assault, no matter what her/his age, is complex. You may also find yourself having complicated or judgmental feelings about your child’s actions. Getting some guidance about talking to your child can help improve your confidence.
- Keeping your child safe. Most parents believe it is their job to keep their child safe. When a child is hurt, most of us feel that responsibility keenly. Parents have a range of reactions. One parent might want to immediately pull the child out of school where another parent feels unsure of the accusation of abuse.
- Your feelings about the perpetrator. The younger your child is, the more likely it is that you know the offender. It could be a trusted person such as a teacher or coach, a beloved family member, another child or teen, or someone your child is dating. The more emotionally attached you are to the offender, the more difficult it can be to make decisions that are in the best interest of you and your child. Finding someone to support you and your feelings can help.
- Whether your child is making a false accusation. It is rare for a child to make up an accusation. Children do sometimes tell different stories to different people. This can be because they are confused or scared about how the person they are telling will react. It is important for you to be supportive of your child as they disclose their experience
- Making everything better. Naturally, parents don’t like to see their child in pain and often want them to feel better quickly. But, recovery from sexual assault takes time. Parents can help by learning about the healing process and offering their child unconditional support. Parents also can help by recognizing their own pain and seeking help for themselves.
- How this crisis affects your other children. When a child is sexually assaulted or abused, it affects the whole family. You may find yourself feeling overprotective of other children. You may struggle with how to explain your child’s emotional distress- and yours - to your other children. You may feel overwhelmed with caring for your child in crisis and neglectful of other children.
- Your own history of trauma. If you have a history of sexual assault, this may trigger your own history and create a multiplicity of stress. Remember that you are as deserving of help for all of your own reactions as your child is for his/her’s.
The best way to care for your child is to also care for yourself. You will need your own sources of support - friends, family members, or community services - to help you with your child’s and your family’s recovery from sexual assault.
There are many things you can do for a teen who has been sexually assaulted.
- Listen: Often, a teen in crisis just needs someone to hear her/his story. You can show you are really listening by not judging them or questioning what you are hearing.
- Be supportive: It's natural for you to have beliefs and attitudes that will be challenged by what the teen is telling you, but right now they just need to be heard, rather than hearing your opinion.
- Let the teen decide what to talk about: Don't push the teen to talk about things they are not ready to discuss. Don't pry. Speak calmly and gently.
- Respect the teen’s privacy: Don't tell other people about what happened to them unless they tell you it is OK.
- Remind the teen that you care: You can show affection by listening, speaking calmly and gently, believing them and keeping an open mind.
Call us. We can help.