My Child is Safe Now — How Do We Deal With the Aftermath?
This is the final post in this series on child sexual assault. Here we’ll talk about what to do for recovery — your child’s treatment, your own processing of the events, and some of the logistics.
I mostly use “them” and “they” when talking about a child because it’s awkward to read “him/her” over and over again. I also tend to use “he” when talking about the abuser, not because women don’t abuse, but simply based on statistics. If you are a male victim of a female abuser, switch these pronouns around and the information will still be accurate.
(Last, and still least: I’m often a fan of readability over grammar. There will sometimes be dangling participles and such, and we will leave them in peace.)
The legal system
Talk to police and social services about whatever legal actions they are taking against the abuser. If you have access to a lawyer — either formally or informally — call them up and ask for a consultation. Having access to a child services lawyer is especially valuable for answering questions, and it’s good to have someone on your team who’s focused on your child.
Police will focus on catching the molester, and the legal system will focus on prosecuting the molester, which is how it ought to be — we want the molester caught and prosecuted. That does mean that the lawyer may be the only part of the legal system whose primary focus and goal is looking out for your child. Ask about the legal process. Ask all your questions.
Child Protective Services (CPS) may be involved if it is determined your child may still be in danger — for example, if the abuser is Mom’s boyfriend, or is a family member, or is someone who lives in the same house with the child. If the abuser lives elsewhere, though, and CPS is confident you will protect your child, they may be involved very little.
A child’s therapy
We discussed in the previous post how to choose a good therapist for our children. Once in counseling, your child (and you, as you may also need and want counseling to work through this experience) will be working through feelings like guilt, fear, feelings of betrayal, lack of trust, being too much into sex too early, body image problems, and more.
Continue to believe and support your child in this. Sessions with the therapist and your child will be confidential so that your child can feel safe expressing anything they may be feeling. Respect this confidentiality in the interest of helping your child work through what happened to them. Do ask questions, gently, to make sure nothing is amiss in the therapist-patient relationship, but don’t push your child to tell you details from therapy.
A child who has been sexually abused has had their personal boundaries violated, by force and/or by adult manipulation. These healthy boundaries need to be rebuilt, and you play the largest role in that.
Give your child emotional and physical privacy. Keep the lines of communication open by conversing with your child, but don’t press them. Give your child the right to say Yes or No to what they want and don’t want, what they like and don’t like. Give your child choices about what to wear and what to do, and remember that they have a sovereign right to think what they think.
Encourage your child to make plans and carry them out and to take action on what they want rather than waiting for it or waiting for others to give it to them. (These are all good skills for any child — much more so for a child who has been molested.)
Safety skills for children
Teach your child:
- …That people in general don’t have a right to touch the child’s private parts (teach what those are) without their permission.
- …How to say No to an adult, and assure the child you’ll support them when they set this personal boundary. If they think they’ll get in trouble for saying No to an adult, they likely won’t, and they’ll be back where they started with the molester (adults have control of my body and I don’t).
- I can remember being chided for not wanting adults to hug me or kiss me, and the message was very clear: That adults’ social needs took precedence over my bodily sovereignty. That if an adult felt like touching me, they had the right to touch me at will, and I had no rights over my body at that moment.
- Understand, these were very normal social values at the time, but it also helps explain why I put up no resistance when I was molested in childhood. I had learned that children don’t have rights to their bodies when adults want to touch them. Teach your child differently.
- …To trust their instincts.Children often sense when something is not quite right. They don’t know what’s wrong or how to explain it, but they may feel hesitant, uncomfortable, or fearful. Encourage them to pay attention to these feelings. There’s no reason to force them into the company of people who twang their instincts and make them worry, at some level, about their safety.
- I can say from my own experience that when my family put me in the company of people I was uncomfortable with, I felt twice as scared — I thought they were not looking out for my safety and that I was on my own. This is a very scary prospect for someone in the single digits in age who already feels powerless in the world of adults.
- We don’t want our children to be crippled by a naturally shy personality, either, so pay attention, talk to your child, and find out what’s really going on inside them. If they trust us, they’ll tell us.
- …General safety rules. Don’t answer the door when home alone. How to answer the telephone. How to call 911 and tell the operator their home address, phone number, and parents’ names (and workplaces).
- …Whom to go to for safety. Is there a neighbor or close friend who’s safe? List those people and their phone numbers by the phone as a support system for your child in times of need.
- …How to take action if someone approaches them in an uncomfortable way. They can run, scream, yell “This is not my mom!”, any number of options. Assure your child of your support in doing this.
- …To know that some people will do nice things only for the purpose of getting the child to trust themand go with them. Have practice conversations with your child as a way of communicating to them some of the things that predators might say:
- “Your mom got hurt, she’s in the hospital, and she sent me to come pick you up.”
- “Your dad is running late today at work and asked me to come get you.”
- “I’m [other child]‘s dad and we just forgot to invite you to the party this afternoon. Come on, you can still come.” And so on.
- …To have a safe wordthat’s private between your child and you as parent(s). You can also have a safe word with friends who are authorized to pick your child up from school, and this “approved list” and safe word can be arranged with the school.
- If someone shows up to pick up your child and doesn’t know the safe word, even if it’s someone you or your child knows, teach your child to absolutely refuse to go with them.
Molesters make excuses…
…It’s a law of nature. If the molester is a family member, a friend, or someone living in your home, the excuses will begin immediately. They may include, but are not limited to:
- I was drunk (or high).
- She came after me, not the other way around.
- I was abused as a child.
- I just did it, before I even knew what I was doing. I’ll never do it again, I promise.
- I was only trying to show him what to watch out for.
- What am I supposed to do? You never want any!
- Look, we’re family. You’re not going to turn me in, are you? I’m your [brother, father, husband, fiancée...]!
- What, you believe the word of a kid over your own [brother, etc.]?
No matter what the child did, no matter any other factors, molesting a child is entirely the molester’s fault. Blame for molesting the child can’t be laid at the child’s feet, the non-abusive parent’s feet, or bad circumstances of the molester’s childhood. Guess whose mind made the decision and whose hands carried it out. That’s where the blame lies. (Incidentally, this also applies to the rape of adults.)
If the molester is your spouse, family member, friend, or fellow church member, it may feel overwhelming to actually hold that person responsible. Historically, people have thrown their children under the bus (figuratively speaking) and let the adult go in order to save his marriage, his career, his ministry, or whatever. Today we as parents know we have a higher responsibility to our children.
This is where you as a parent may feel the need for a therapist and/or support group to help you get through this extremely hard time. Keep in mind that whatever you do or don’t do, your child is watching and will remember and be grateful for your protection and love in a time of intense vulnerability, betrayal, and need.
Abusers don’t molest once and then quit
The average child molester has molested dozens of children over a period of years before being caught — and that’s just the ones who get caught. Sexual attraction to children is a totally separate thing than a normal sexual attraction to adults. People don’t go back and forth between them.
The molester will tell you otherwise, but based on what we know from sky-high recidivism rates (the rate at which a criminal coming out of the legal system commits the same criminal act again) and from therapists who treat offenders, this attraction doesn’t change, and it seems to be very difficult for offenders to stop offending. In an overwhelming majority of cases, they re-offend.
“I don’t know what happened” (yes, they do, they did it on purpose) — “and it’ll never happen again” (yes, chances are excellent that it’ll happen again, and equally excellent that it has happened before too).
Child molesters interviewed in prison have told their interviewers what they’re looking for when they’re out trolling for children, and how they prepared the children to not protest or resist being molested:
- Ready availability — a child they already know or have access to.
- Emotional need. They looked for children who had been taught to be compliant to adults, and children who were emotionally needy.
- Establish a relationship. The predator took time to get to know the child, bought presents, listened and showed caring behavior.
- At the same time, the abuser emotionally manipulated and set up the child by subtly encouraging trust in himself and distrust in the child’s parents and other adults.
- This way, if the child ever protested, the abuser had an array of strategies: He blamed the child. Or he told the child that if anyone found out, he’d go to jail, or that the child would lose her family, or that everyone would blame the child.
- Condition a child to touch. With the caring relationship in place, the predator would start touching the child, first in innocent ways, then gradually sexually. This included wrestling, tickling, hugging, stroking the child’s back, etc.
- Because of the friendship, when touching turns sexual, it’s confusing to the child. This is someone who cares about them, so it must be right, right?
- Get the child alone. It’s obvious why the abuser would want to do this.
- “How to Survive the Sexual Abuse of Your Child,” by Christine Larson, MSW, and Anne Zaro, MSW, through the Spokane Sexual Assault Center in Spokane, Washington. This little booklet is worth its weight in gold. It covers everything we’ve covered here and much more.
- “Especially for Parents,” a booklet developed by DeAnn Yamamoto-Nading, MA, and King County Sexual Assault Resource Center staff, available through the King County Sexual Assault Center in Renton, Washington.
- “Just in Case: Parental guidelines in finding professional help in case your child is missing or the victim of sexual exploitation,” a brochure from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
- Your Body Belongs to You, by Cornelia Spelman.
- My Very Own Book About Me! Personal Safety Book, by Jo Stowell, MA, MED, and Mary Dietzel, RN, MSW, available through the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma (SAFeT) Response Center or Amazon. List of other resources and a parents’ guide included.
- Office of Crime Victims Advocacy (OVC).
- Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP). Check your state for a similar coalition website, which will list most or all of your state’s sexual assault resources (offices, support, literature, public policy efforts, etc.). Check to see if they have a catalog of child safety/child sexual abuse items that you can browse through and purchase materials from.
- “Reducing the Risk for Children in Our Care,” a brochure by the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma (SAFeT) Response Center.
- “Just in case: Guidelines in case you are considering daycare,” a brochure by the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy.
- Protecting the Gift, by Gavin de Becker. Also available as audio cassette/audiobook set.
Filed under: for parents, sexual assault, sexual assault info, Uncategorized Tagged: | Child abuse, child abuser, child molester, Child Protective Services, child safety, Child sexual abuse, child therapy, Children Youth and Family, CPS, incest, Mother, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Office of Crime Victims Advocacy, rape, SAFeT Response Center, Sexual abuse, sexual predator