Thursday, April 11, 2013

My Child Was Assaulted...Now what?

Dear Anne,
My daughter recently disclosed that she was sexually abused by a family acquaintance.  We have already met with both the department of human resources and the police.  At this point I am really struggling with what to do.  I feel horrible that my daughter has gone through this but I don’t know how to respond to her.  My husband says I am babying her too much but my mother says that I need to baby her more.  I just don’t know what to do or say?
-Hurting Mom-

Dear Hurting Mom,
I am sorry that your child and your family have experienced this trauma.  After ensuring safety, one of the most important things you can do when a child discloses sexual abuse is to support them by letting them know you believe them and that they did the right thing when they told you what happened.    Stay as calm as possible and listen when the child wants to talk about the abuse.  Don’t ask questions; leave the investigating to the authorities.  Just listen and support. 
It is also very important to get back to a “normal” routine as soon as possible.  What was normal before the disclosure, such as rules, routine, and discipline, need to be the same following the disclosure.  Structure and routine provide a feeling of safety for children.
Your child may have times when she is more emotional.  That is ok.  Let her know that it is ok to be sad, mad, or have any other feeling she is having. You also may be more emotional as you work through this.  Acknowledge those feelings.
It may be helpful to seek professional help from a counselor that specializes in working with families and children who have experienced traumatic events.  

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
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