Responding to child sexual abuse

When a child tells an adult that he or she has been sexually abused, the adult may feel uncomfortable and may not know what to say or do. Click on the leaflet to download our guidelines for responding to children who say they have been sexually abused.

What to Say

If a child even hints in a vague way that sexual abuse has occurred, encourage him or her to talk freely. Don’t make judgmental comments.

Show that you understand and take seriously what the child is saying. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have found that children who are listened to and understood do much better than those who are not. The response to the disclosure of sexual abuse is critical to the child’s ability to resolve and heal any negative effects of sexual abuse.

Assure the child that they did the right thing in telling. A child who is close to the abuser may feel guilty about revealing the secret. The child may feel frightened if the abuser has threatened to harm the child or other family members as punishment for telling the secret.

Tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual abuse. Most children in attempting to make sense out of the abuse will believe that somehow they caused it or may even view it as a form of punishment for imagined or real wrongdoings.

Finally, offer the child protection, and assure them that you will do all you can to stop the abuse.

What to Do

Report any suspicion of child abuse to Child, Youth and Families (CYF) or to the police. Individuals reporting in good faith are immune from prosecution. The agency receiving the report will conduct an evaluation and will take action to protect the child.

The Police should consult with a DSAC Doctor and/or paediatrician who specializes in evaluating and treating sexual abuse. The examining doctor will evaluate the child’s condition and treat any physical problem related to the abuse, gather evidence to help protect the child, and reassure the child.

Parents need to contact a qualified professional to discuss possible effects of the abuse on the child, and to determine whether ongoing professional help is necessary for the child to deal with any possible trauma of the abuse. The professional may also provide support to other family members who may be upset by the abuse.

Adults, because of their maturity and knowledge, are always responsible for any abuse of children. The abused children should never be blamed. When a child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in getting help for the child and re-establishing their trust in adults.