It makes you uncomfortable. It isn’t convenient. You don’t want to ruin someone’s life based on the word of a child. Sound familiar? What if it wasn’t about you? Or your level of comfort? What if it was about a child? Maybe you think people tend to overreact and should mind more of their own business. Have you ever really considered what you would do if a child you know, a child you love, came to you and disclosed his or her own abuse. Maybe, hopefully, this will never happen to you. But if it does, would you know what to do?
Children who disclose abuse do so between nine and eleven times before they are believed. Some never tell. If a child you know, a child you love, discloses abuse, will you be listening? I believe you will. I believe you will listen, believe, and reassure. Taking those simple gives the child who is disclosing the best possible chance for a positive outcome, post abuse. Children who are abused often feel guilty, afraid, ashamed, and powerless. The early support you give sets the stage for recovery and healing.
What can you do if a child discloses abuse? Don’t overreact. Listen calmly. Don’t fear the silence or try to fill it. Ask open ended questions like, “Then what happened?” Make sure to say that you believe the child and also that what happened is not his or her fault. Be careful not to show anger or disgust about the offender. This may confuse or upset the child. The offender may very well be someone the child loves and trusts and by being angry or threatening about the perpetrator, you may worsen the guilt the child is most likely already feeling. Listen calmly and reassure.
Reporting abuse of any sort is only a phone call away. The child who disclosed to you trusted you enough to come to you for help. Don’t let him or her down. Report the incident to the police or child protective services in your area. Tell what the child said to you and give whatever details you can provide to the police or child protective services, including the child’s name and address. For help, please call 1-800-4- A- CHILD to report abuse or suspected abuse. To find a child advocacy center near you, contact the National Children’s Alliance 1-800-239-9950.
Will you be listening? Will you believe? Will you react responsibly?. I believe you will. I hope you believe too. Listen. Believe. React responsibly.
Editor, Ask Lala
Laura Fogarty writes “Ask Lala” for the Stop Abuse Campaign. She is a mother, an advocate and the author of two children’s abuse prevention books: I’M THE BOSS OF ME! and WE ARE JUST ALIKE!