If You've Experienced Child Sexual Abuse
Information for Parents
Hearing that your child has been sexually abused is one of the most difficult and painful experiences parents can face. When you first find out, you will likely feel alone and isolated.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child. Such acts may include fondling a child's genitals, getting a child to fondle an adult's genitals, mouth to genital contact, rubbing an adult's genitals against a child, or actually penetrating a child's vagina or anus.
Who Are the Abusers?
Boys and girls are most often abused by adults or older children whom they know and who can control them. They are usually people who have access to the child, such as parents, siblings, uncles, grandfathers, neighbours, and babysitters. The abuser is known by the child in most cases, and is often an authority figure the child trusts or loves. The child is usually persuaded or coerced, bribed or threatened to engage in the sexual activity.
Children are easy targets of sexual abuse because they trust and depend upon adults. Sexual abuse has many forms and can be so subtle that a child may not know what is happening, just that he or she in uncomfortable with it.
Hugging and touching are normal expressions of friendship, team spirit, love and affection. They make us feel good about ourselves and others. But there are individuals who exploit children for sexual pleasure or gratification.
Sexual abuse of children and young people can occur as a single incident or over a period of time.
Children may tell their parents or care givers that they have been abused immediately after the abuse happens; others may not. Some children are too young to understand what has happened so they may not think what was done to them is wrong. They may not be able to verbally express what has happened to them. Children may hold onto their secret for an indefinite period of time. When they do disclose, they may not tell everything all at once; they may tell only a little at a time.
Children will often first disclose abuse to a teacher or a friend and this can be difficult for parents to understand. This is not unusual and it does not mean that your child does not love or trust you.
Some reasons children do not disclose are:
- they do not want to worry you
- they may be embarrassed
- they may feel that you will not be able to handle the painful truth of what has happened
- they may have been threatened not to tell
- may have told that the perpetrator would harm you
What Your Child May be Feeling
- Fear is one reaction your child may have - he or she may have been threatened to keep the abuse a secret and may be afraid the abuser's threats may not come true
- Your child may be afraid of being punished for doing something wrong
- Your child may be afraid of being rejected by you or the abuser
- He or she may feel other people will treat them differently if they find out about the abuse
- Your child may be afraid of upsetting you or breaking up the family
- He or she may not understand why this has happenedHe or she may be confused if the abuser was someone known or trustedYour child may be confused because of conflicting feelings of both love and hate towards the abuser
- He or she may know the abuse was wrong, but may be confused because some of it felt nice and the attention felt goodYour child may feel that he or she was to blame for the abuse
How to Respond to Your Child
The best way to respond to your child is to listen carefully to what your child says and to be attentive to his or her behaviour. Show your concern. Ask if anything is the matter, but do not press for an answer. Let your child know that you are ready to listen at any time.