Parenting a Victim of Childhood Sexual Assault
Unfortunately, children do not come with instruction manuals. It can be quite a challenge to know what a young child needs sometimes, as they themselves may not really know. When your child is also a victim of sexual abuse, you may be wishing for that magic recipe to tell you exactly what he/she needs so you do not cause them any undue suffering.
Learn everything you can about child sexual abuse from how and why it occurs to what your child may be going through now and in the future. Understand the psychology of child molesters, what to expect in court, the legal process, signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on. You can no doubt find all the information you need online, but there are also some helpful books available, such as:
- Healing the Harm Done: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child Overcome the Effects of Sexual Abuse by Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck
- Helping Your Child Recover from Childhood Sexual Abuse by Caren Adams, Jennifer Fay, and A.G. Fawkes
- When Your Child Has Been Molested: A Parent’s Guide to Healing and Recovery by Kathryn Brohl and Joyce Case Potter
Reassure Your Child
Immediately after the incident, it is very important to reassure your son or daughter that the abuse was not their fault, that you will do everything in your power to ensure they’re safe from the abuser in the future, and that they are not alone (one in three girls and one in five boys are molested). Plus, it never hurts to say, “I love you and if there is anything you need me to do for you that I haven’t done, you can tell me.”
You do not want to continue bringing up reminders of the event, however, once the initial dust has settled. For example, do not tell your child every week for six months after the abuse that it wasn’t their fault. Say it two or three times initially, then only bring it up if the child does. This is not to say that every so often (two or three times a year) you might not want to ask your son or daughter, “How are you doing or feeling about the incident that happened with Uncle Bob?” This shows your child that it’s not taboo to bring it up but that it is not necessary to talk about it either. You’ll find most young children are not really ready to talk about what happened until they are older.
Understand the Impact on Your Child
Sexual abuse can affect your son or daughter’s self-esteem, trust, ability to be intimate (when they’re young this can mean being tickled or hugged), sense of security, and over-all development. Your child might also begin to have nightmares, wet the bed, suck their thumb, or have problems in school. If your child suddenly does not feel comfortable having you accompany them into the changing room at a clothing store, respect that.
Once your child becomes a teenager, they are statistically more likely to miss school, be promiscuous, get pregnant, suffer with depression, abuse drugs and alcohol, break the law, cut themselves, and attempt suicide. Furthermore, victims of one kind of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) are more likely to become victims of other types of abuse. Later in life, domestic violence, for example, may be an issue. Rather than being overwhelmed by this unfortunate information, be informed and know what to (possibly) expect.
You Can’t Fix It
It’s not your job to “fix” what happened. Likewise, the abuse was not your fault, and all the guilt in the world won’t change that. You cannot heal your child; your child must do that on their own. If that is taken away from them, they can never empower themselves and reclaim some of the control over their life that the abuser took away from them. Your job rather is to be supportive and loving?period. One of the best ways to empower your child when issues of the abuse arise is to follow three simple steps:
- Listen to what they have to say-don’t interrupt or ask questions; just let them talk
- Validate what your child tells you
- Give options-avoid giving advice (this does not empower your child) but rather ask your child what might be some solutions and then ask them to pick one (this is empowering because they are in control)
Plus, remember that this happened to you too. Talk to a counselor or join a support group.
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