As a parent of three teenagers, I was horrified to read of a mother and father’s reaction to their child’s rape at a friend’s party. The 14-year-old was drugged and than raped by a number of boys. Under a counsellors’s guidance, the teenager’s parents were told — their reaction had devastating consequences. They called their daughter a slut and all blame was put on her young shoulders. Later that year, she committed suicide.
How different that young girl’s life might have been, had she been supported by her parents, told she was loved and that she was never to blame. This story only reinforces a very important point I would like to make as an advocate for sexual abuse prevention education (body safety), our reaction to a child’s disclosure is crucial to their ongoing well-being and their healing. It we react with shock, horror and/or anger, the child will most certainly take their cues from us, and take on the even heavier burden that in some way they are to blame.
You do not need to be an astrophysicist to know, love and support are paramount to the child (or anyone) who disclosures sexual abuse. It takes an enormous amount of courage for a child to disclose abuse that may have been ongoing for years. They will, no doubt, have been threatened with horrific consequences were they to tell. To find the valour to overcome such threats, is a true act of courage. Their bravery needs to be unconditionally respected. But what a child needs more than anything from the person they disclose to — be it a parent, relative, teacher or friend — is compassionate reassurance.
Reassurance that they have done the right thing in telling.
Reassurance that they are loved.
Reassurance that they are incredibly brave.
Reassurance that they are safe.
Reassurance that they are NOT to blame.
Reassurance that the abuse will stop.
It is our responsibility and duty of care to the child, to remain calm as well as receptive and compassionate, once the child begins to disclose.
A disclosure from any sexual abuse victim takes an enormous amount of courage — so please, as the trusted recipient, respond to such bravery with love and compassion.
Jayneen Sanders is a mother of three, teacher, author, and an advocate for body safety education both in the home and in schools. Jayneen is the author of the children’s picture book ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’. Available on www.e2epublishing.info and on Amazon. Information on teaching children body safety is also available on the Educate2Empower website.
For more information, read Jayneen Sanders' book Body Safety Education: A parent’s guide to protecting kids from sexual abuse
For further advice and support if a child does disclose to you, contact any of these organisations to help you with your next steps:
CASA (Australia) www.casa.org.au
Child Wise (Australia) www.childwise.net/page/8/child-wise-national-child-abuse-prevention-help-line
Policelink (Australia), call 131 444