What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member of Sexually Abusing a Child: Part III

When and How Should I Intervene?

You may remember the final tip in yesterday’s post:

If your child confides in you that he/she has experienced any type of sexual or physical assault, call the police and take your child away from the care center. Don’t discuss anything with the center at this time; law enforcement can give you some guidance there. Report the information to social services and take your child to the pediatrician for an exam and checkup.

Don’t let all this activity scare your child, and don’t blame your child. Thank the child for telling you, and take action. Explain as much as you can of what you’re doing that’s appropriate , telling your child that you’re protecting him/her and other little children. For a child to confide scary information like this to any adult is a brave and courageous act, particularly if the child was threatened in some way.

In this post we’ll talk about watching your child for signs of abuse and getting professional help for your child.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Here is the shocking truth. Percentage of sexually abused children who knew their abuser: 90. Child sexual abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by people who already know the child, such as family members, church members, school staff, Scout leaders, and so on. So it’s very likely that if your child ever comes to you with a story of abuse, it will be about someone you know. Be prepared for that.

These signs can’t be taken as guarantees that sexual abuse has occurred, but when several of these signs appear as a cluster, that’s a red flag. (Because a child could display even just one sign, keep the lines of communication open with your child all the time. Ask questions if you see a new behavior. Discuss various situations with your child.) Some of these behaviors can appear in children who are just being children, so know your child. Watch for a child who:

  • Can describe sexual activity in specific terms.
  • Has nothing to gain and much to lose by accusing someone falsely (this is just about every victim).
  • Continues to say “dirty” words or jokes even after experiencing consequences over time.
  • Clothing issues — refusing to wear any, public exposure, or dressing in too much clothing all the time.
  • Hates his/her body or sexual organs.
  • Forces peers to “play doctor” and remove clothes, touches them, forces them to touch or look at genitals.
  • Is very negative about sex, “making babies,” or babies.
  • Violates others’ sexual and personal privacy by routinely barging into bathrooms or bedrooms and refusing to stop doing so.
  • Sexually assaults other children.

This is not an exhaustive list, but gives you an idea of the types of things children may do after being sexually assaulted in some way.

Getting Professional Help For Your Child

Let’s say you’ve discovered — heaven forbid — that your child has been abused. How do you find the right therapist? Social services can probably give you several references to therapists. The Internet, the local phone book, other parents — there are many resources. Once you have a list of possibilities in hand, here are some ways you can screen therapists to find the right one for your child and his/her situation.

  • Ask about the therapist’s training.
  • Sit down with the therapist and your child to discuss possible treatment. While there, observe the interpersonal connection between the therapist and your child. Is your child intimidated by the therapist? Does the therapist genuinely like your child?
  • Ask the therapist up front who is to blame for the assault. Child sexual assault, like any other attack, is solely the responsibility of the attacker; if the therapist expresses any “gray area” about blame and responsibility, such as placing part of the blame on the child, find another therapist.
  • Ask how many survivors or how long the therapist has worked with child sexual assault survivors.
  • Ask about regular communications from the therapist to you, and watch the therapist’s reaction. A good therapist will of course have a plan for regular reports and opportunities to ask questions. The process should be open and healthy.
  • Ask how the therapist views your child’s sexual assault. The answer needs to make it clear to you that the therapist takes the assault seriously and considers it a main therapeutic topic, not a minor or side topic. “The abuse is just a symptom of an unhealthy family system, and we’ll focus primarily on the family system, not the abuse” is not a therapist who is going to focus on your child’s being attacked and on his/her suffering and healing from the attack(s).
  • Does the therapist partner with you in helping your child?
  • Does the therapist treat you and your child with respect in general?

Many therapists have a sliding scale of fees to help clients of varying incomes.


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