This is the fourth post in our series on protecting our children from sexual predators. In part one, I shared stories from women who were victims (including myself) and encouraged mamas to be aware of the danger. In part two, we talked about how to prepare ourselves to protect our children. Part three covered ways to prepare our children by making them aware of the danger in an age-appropriate way. There are some excellent resources in that post to help make that easier. Today, we’re covering the steps to take if your child is, or has been, a victim of sexual assault or abuse.
You Might Have to Ask
I think that most parents of victims would be completely shocked to learn that anything has ever happened. When our kids are running around tattling on each other about toys being taken and rules being broken, it’s easy to assume that they would run right to us an tell us if somebody hurt them. That seldom happens. Most children are overwhelmed with emotions, threats, promises and false guilt. They aren’t able to deal with such a horrible situation, so they are inclined to avoid bringing it up. If you haven’t ever talked with your children about the danger of sexual predators, you need to gently broach the topic and make sure that they haven’t already been taken advantage of. Even children who have been prepared and carefully watched won’t necessarily come to you when somebody hurts them. Don’t make it intense, but ask a few questions to give them the opportunity to tell you about things, if they need to.
BELIEVE THE CHILD
I cannot stress this strongly enough. I heard from family, friends, acquaintances and readers who were sexually abused as children. When they told their parents, the parents didn’t believe them! That just breaks my heart. I don’t care if the child is known to be a habitual liar, NEVER, NEVER ignore a child who asks for help and protection! Better to protect a child who doesn’t need it than to not protect a child who is in danger.
I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t investigate and verify, but please always work under the assumption that the child is truly seeking help. If they made it up, which very seldom happens, then you’ve got some serious parenting to do, but at least your child is safe.
Inform the Police
If you truly don’t know whether or not there has been abuse, consider taking your child to a Christian counselor who is trained to work with abused children. He or she will most likely be able to tell. We don’t want to ruin a person’s life by falsely accusing them of such a horrible thing, so involve a specialist before calling the police, if you need to. However, unless you are absolutely certain that your child has made a false accusation, call the police. Whether you want to question the abuser first or not is up to you, but angry parents have been known to spend the night in jail for losing their tempers in this situation. Better if the police are there to prevent that kind of thing.
If you are thinking that you’ll just talk to the person and get them to promise never to do it again, you are deceived. This isn’t the kind of thing that “just happens”. This sort of sexual perversion comes from a deep-rooted, ugly sin. These people see children in a sexual context and they cannot simply “quit” any more than a heroine addict could just “quit”. They have no integrity and their promises are meaningless. They are not willing or able to control themselves, so those who know need to do everything they can to make certain that somebody is keeping them from hurting other children. If that means the person goes to jail, so be it.
If you are thinking that it would be “kinder” not to embarrass the person’s family by calling the police, you are deceived. Do everything you possibly can to let the family of the abuser know that you do not blame them, but do not let a child molester walk the streets to avoid embarrassment for the family. If the person had murdered your child, you would never consider keeping quiet. If they had even just hit your child, you would call the police. In any other form, an assault is not tolerated. When it is of a sexual nature, people get squeamish about speaking up. Sexual abuse is a crime and it needs to be reported just like you would report any other crime. Be loving and kind to the family, but pick up the phone and get the police involved for your child’s sake, for your sake, for the sake of possible future victims, and even for the sake of the predator’s family.
On a personal note, we (my parents and I) agreed not to call the police. We didn’t want to hurt and embarrass our very dear friends. It seemed like a good choice at the time, but looking back, we know it wasn’t. This man sinned, broke the law and hurt many people, but he was never held accountable. I have wondered how many other young girls he molested and abused after I chose not to report him. I know that his sins are his own, but I also know that avoiding embarrassing his family should never have been more important than protecting future victims. Just speaking up about what he did to me prompted several girls and women in his family to admit that he had abused them. How many more might have been spared if we had all reported him?
Understand the “Victim” Mentality
We all know that a child is not at fault when they are molested or abused. The child may even know this, in theory. I can tell you from personal experience that knowing that in my head and actually believing it were two completely different things. I had only a two or three minute walk from the house I was molested in to my home. In those few minutes my emotions were all over the place.
- I felt guilty, as though it must somehow have been my fault.
- I felt disoriented, like I couldn’t quite think clearly.
- I felt embarrassed and was afraid that everybody would think I was overreacting.
- I felt dirty and ashamed thinking about what this trusted man had done to me.
- Above all of that, I wanted desperately to somehow convince myself that it hadn’t happened, so that I didn’t have to think about it anymore.
It took every ounce of willpower I had in me to walk through my front door and tell my mom what had happened. Remember, I was in my mid-teens when I was molested. I cannot even begin to imagine how a young child would be able to process all of that and still be able to seek help. I very much doubt, with my personality, that I would have gone to my parents if this had occurred when I was much younger. If your child has been molested or abused, be patient with their emotions, no matter how confusing they are. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
On top of all of the factors I listed above, many children have even more daunting obstacles to overcome. They often have to deal with much more intense situations, such as…
- Feelings of “love”, when the predator is in the family or is a close friend of the family.
- Threats: Often a child is threatened to keep them quiet. This can range anywhere from, “Nobody will believe you and you’ll get in trouble” to “I’ll kill you and your family, if you tell.”
- Brainwashing: When a child is told over and over again by an authority figure, “You like this”, “You want me to do this” or “This is your fault”, they will begin to believe it.
- Attraction: God made our bodies to find pleasure in sexual touch, but when an abuser causes that kind of feeling in a child, it creates extreme confusion and feelings of guilt.
As important as it is for children to be able to talk to their parents, seek out a trustworthy Christian counselor or pastor. They are trained to help your child work through all of the heart-wrenching emotions and confusing thoughts. Consider counseling not only for your child, but also for yourselves. If the parents are having a hard time dealing with the abuse, it will make healing that much more difficult for the child.
Denial is not healthy, but neither is dwelling. Depending on the situation, months or even years of counseling may be needed. Just don’t make the mistake of making your child’s entire life (or your own!) be centered around the abuse. If your child was victimized, don’t keep them feeling like a victim. Help them to discover their strengths. Show them the beauty in this world; they’ve seen plenty of ugliness, already. Let them know how much you and God love them. When they have healed enough, encourage them to do something to help somebody else (like telling their story in a blog post ).
Next week I will send out the last post in this series. It is a guest post on human trafficking and I have already had a peek at it. If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised at how much you learn! Again, questions and comments are welcome, but please do keep in mind that this is a very sensitive topic.