After you’ve reported child sexual abuse, get help for yourself, your child, and the rest of your family. If the offender is a family member or friend, decisions will need to be made about contact and visits and possibly about the continuation of the relationship. Seek help from your caseworker and any counselors involved with your family. They can help you think clearly about a decision.
The Benefits of Recovery
It’s easy to want to cut yourself off from outside help because you’re afraid or embarrassed, or because you wish the whole situation would just go away. But even if your child doesn’t appear to show signs of distress, the effects of the abuse won’t resolve by themselves. For full recovery for your child and your family, you need to work with a trained professional. Children are much more likely to make a good recovery from abuse if their parents:
- Get their child immediate and appropriate help
- Are supportive and work to understand the healing process
- Get help and support for themselves
Children who aren’t believed or don’t receive help are more likely to have long-term problems with:
- Trusting themselves and others
- Self-confidence (because of unresolved guilt and shame)
- Mild to serious mental health problems
- Romantic and sexual relationships as an adolescent and adult
- Increased vulnerability to future social trauma
Finding a Counselor for Your Child
A counselor or therapist is a professional specifically trained to help with emotional difficulties, personal problems, and mental health issues. Choose a counselor with special training and experience in working with sexually abused children. This person should also be qualified by your state’s laws to act as an expert witness if the case goes to trial. A counselor or therapist can:
- Support your child through the investigative process
- Give you information about how to best support yourself, your child, and your family
- Help you understand the effects of sexual abuse on your child
- Help your child work through and recover from the experience
Your child’s counselor will help you understand the best ways to support your child through the healing process. Here are some general guidelines:
- Keep home life as normal as possible. Children will feel safer if routines remain the same.
- Help your child soothe himself or herself. Your child will need extra reassurance and comfort.
- Realize your child will be fearful. Reassure your child this fear will get smaller with time.
- Let your child talk about feelings, and be sure to create opportunities for this to happen.
- Don’t ignore sexualized behavior and play. This behavior indicates continuing distress and should be stopped in a simple, matter-of-fact, and supportive way.
- Expect difficult behavior and respond in a consistent, firm, but gentle manner.
If You Were Abused
If you have been sexually abused yourself, know you’re not alone. You may become overwhelmed with memories. If so, it’s important to get help from a counselor, especially if you have never sought counseling for the abuse or told anyone about it.
The more you can cope in a calm and thoughtful manner, the quicker your child will return to a sense of security and trust. The days, weeks, and months that follow the discovery of abuse can bring many challenges and some setbacks, but also opportunities to strengthen your family as you move together through the healing process.