Information for Parents of Child Sexual Assault Victims
Most people readily agree that sexual abuse is not okay. Yet it is an unacceptable word that has long been surrounded by myth. Sexual abuse is a subject that carries with it much fear, unhappiness, shame and, most of all, SILENCE. Understanding that this crippling, pervasive silence must be broken is vital.
Sex is not the issue in a sexually abusive relationship. The myths and/or inadequate information regarding non-offending parents may be common, but they are false - non-offending parents are not responsible! The myth that children can be seductive or provocative is also untrue. Children do have sexual feelings appropriate to their developmental stage. They seek out attention and affection from adults, but it is the adult who determines the sexual nature of the encounter and bears responsibility for it - not the child! Children do not usually make up lies about sexual abuse.
You Are Not Alone
Contrary to popular belief, sexual abuse is not a rare occurrence nor is it confined to any one social class, ethnic group or religious background. It can occur in any family, and it happens more than we would like to think it does.
Approximately 75% of sexually abused children are victims of family members or friends. 95% of all offenders are male - in most cases the father or father figure, but also a grandfather, uncle, brother, teacher, minister/youth leader, and/or adult friend of family.
Feelings and Questions You May Have
You may experience, among other emotions, some or many of the following feelings upon disclosure:
- That your situation is one in a million
- That this does not happen to other people, so therefore, no one will understand, no one will be able to help, and no one will want anything further to do with you or your family (a feeling of isolation).
- At the offender for what he has done to your child
- At the child, for letting the offender abuse her/him (even though you know that the child is not responsible)
- At the child for telling you about the abuse, thus leaving you the worry of what to do about the child, the family, the offender, and yourself (even though you know that the child did the right thing)
- At yourself, for not knowing /protecting your child
- That someone you trusted could do this to your child
- That your child has had to experience this abuse
- That your child perhaps told someone other than yourself first (i.e. a teacher, a friend, or parents of a friend?)
- What to do now - for the child, for yourself, for the family?
- Should you confront the offender?
- Who do you tell?
- Where should you go?
- Everything has fallen into your lap - it is up to the parents - where do you start?
- That you have somehow failed as a parent, as a person.
These feelings are common in parents of child sexual abuse victims. You may ask yourself, "How did I not know?" You may have been at home, or you may have been out. It would not have mattered. If an offender is intent on sexually abusing a child, he/she will find the time and place to sexually abuse a child.
The majority of offenders manage to hide their deviant behavior from their spouse, family, closest friends, and colleagues. When they do admit, they will usually attempt to minimize their abuse by making excuses, blaming others, blaming the victim, or by rationalizing their behavior in other ways (i.e. they were drunk, stressed out, or not receiving enough sex from their partner).
You may ask yourself, "Why did the child not tell me?" The child may not tell you because she/he is afraid to tell you. The child may have been bribed or threatened by the offender and would therefore be afraid that the threats would be carried out. (e.g. "If you tell, I will go to jail; it will ruin the family", and so on).
Children are taught to be obedient. The child may be frightened to speak about "the secret" due to the feelings of guilt she/he would then have to experience. The guilt may surround both the abusive relationship itself, and the guilt for telling someone about it. Do not blame your child.
Your Child May Be Experiencing Feelings Of:
- That the offender carried out these actions because she/he was bad, or was somehow deserving of the abuse;
- That she/he should not have let it happen;
- Didn't we talk about "good touches/bad touches" in school? I should have known what to do;
- That whatever happens within the family now (tension, arguments) is her/his fault because they told someone about the secret.
- That now that she/he has told someone, the offender will somehow retaliate (hurt the child or someone else in the family or close to them)
- That the family and those outside the family will not believe her/him, and will not like or care for her/him any longer
- That she/he will be sent away - outcast
- That mom/dad will become very ill
- That she/he will be blamed
- That mom and dad will be very angry with her/him
- The family will lose everything because of me
- That the offender has betrayed the child's trust;
- That a non-offending parent(s) should have somehow known, and put a stop to it all.
The child may require constant reassurance that she/he is not at all to blame for what happened, that she/he is loved, and will be protected from further abuse from the offender.
What about the Offender?
The person to be held responsible in all cases of sexual abuse is the offender. The offender has exerted power as an adult to exploit a child, without considering what the effects on the child are, or will be. The offender has used a child to fulfill his/her own needs, used a child as an object and has betrayed the child's trust.
There are many theories as to why an offender sexually abuses children. The reasons behind their behavior vary with each individual offender, and become more and more apparent as treatment progresses.
It is also normal to wish that the offender receive some help for her/his problem. You should rest assured that as a result of a conviction for sexual assault, sex offender treatment/counseling is usually a standard part of an offender's sentence.
What do you do now?
It is of the utmost importance that you let your child know that you believe her/him, and that she/he was right to come forward about the abuse. Your child will require a great deal of reassurance at this time. This may be extremely difficult for you due to the mixed emotions you are experiencing (discussed previously).
In most situations it is not advisable to confront the offender. Handling the situation in this manner may also magnify the child's guilt and shame.
Where a child is being or has been abused, it is the moral responsibility of every adult to report the abuse to the police or Department of Human Services Child Welfare.
Where an adult has suffered past abuse, the decision to report it will be difficult for the victim. The police and Victim Assistance will be able to help you understand the options and possible outcomes.
Victim Assistance will also help you understand the criminal justice process throughout the duration of your case.
The problem will not go away on its own! There is counseling available for the victim of sexual abuse, their siblings, and parents - all of which should be strongly considered. Ask a Victim Assistance Advocate about the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program (CVCP) for possible financial help or, contact CVCP at (503) 378-5348 for more information.
Love, understanding and counseling will give your child a positive outlook on themselves and their life, enabling them to deal with this trauma in a healthy manner.
After disclosure, your family may be in a crisis situation. You will no doubt by this time be feeling exhausted and confused - at your wits end! You should feel free to call the Victim Assistance Division with any questions and or concerns.
Victim Assistance Division of the
Marion County District Attorney’s Office
P.O. Box 14500
Salem , Oregon 97309
Some Additional Resources
|Child Abuse Hotline
| Crime Victims’ Compensation
| Department of Human Services/Child Welfare
| DHS Office in Woodburn
| Liberty House (Child Abuse Assessments
| Aumsville Police Department
| Keizer Police Department
| Marion County Sheriff’s Office
| Oregon State Police
| Salem Police Department
| Silverton Police Department
| Stayton Police Department
| Turner Police Department
| Woodburn Police