About the Author: JB is the volunteer co-coordinator, and a regular writer, for Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia. She is a stay-at-home mum with 6 children aged between the ages of 7 months and 20 years and is currently working toward a BA Literature / Sociology, and a diploma in counselling.
So what do you do if your child tells you that they are a victim of abuse? First of all, you need to stay calm. It will hit you like a brick to the face, but you need to hold it together for the time being.
It has taken enormous courage for your child to come forward, and you don't want to risk them thinking they have done the wrong thing.
If the abuser is someone close to you it will be hard to believe, and at some point you will grieve the loss of the person you thought they were, but right now you need to put that aside and take action.
Reassure your child that you believe them (even if you are still not sure what to think), that you will help them, that it is not their fault, and that they have done the right thing in coming forward.
Then call the police, and ask to see someone in the child protection unit. These officers specialise in dealing with traumatised children.
They generally wear plain clothes, so they aren't intimidating, and they know how to tell the difference between abuse, a misunderstanding, and a lie.
It is important to note here that children are almost always telling the truth about sexual abuse.
Abusers will often target children who have a history of lying, mental illness, or having been 'coached' or alienated by another parent. Why? Because they know that nobody believes these kids.
No matter what your child's history, always give them the benefit of the doubt, and let the police decide whether their story checks out. They will not make an arrest or even inform the alleged offender if they don't believe it to be true, so you needn't fear incriminating an innocent person.
Before you get to the interview, let your child give you as much information as they are able (you will be called as a witness), but do not ask any specific questions, because they could be seen as leading, and that will damage the case.
As much as you want to confront the abuser, don't. They are not going to tell you the truth if they are guilty, it implies that you don't believe your child, and it is a safety risk.
Not only that, but it will alert the offender to the possibility of police involvement, giving them time to destroy any evidence that might be found.
Unless you are dealing with this situation immediately after an incident where there may be evidence present, it is best not to take your child for a medical examination until it is requested by the police.
They will usually use specific doctors who know what to look for, give reliable evidence, and know how to work kindly with victims of assault. This is not something you want to have your child go through twice because it can be quite upsetting.
Please do not pass judgement based on the medical. Research shows that only 4% of sexually abused children will have an abnormal result at the time of the examination.
Even in confirmed cases of severe abuse including penetration, this number only increases to 5.5%. Perhaps if juries were given those statistics we would have a much higher conviction rate.
There is every chance that you child will disclose information to you, and then change their mind and insist it was a misunderstanding or a lie. Unfortunately this is a very common response, because they don't want to hurt you, damage relationships, or talk about something so intensely personal.
They might be afraid of what will happen next, afraid of what the abuser will do, or convinced that nobody will believe them. The abuser may have made threats, and told them repeatedly that they will not be believed, or that they are at fault.
Try to remember that this is not a reflection on your relationship with your child. Don't ever blame yourself for not knowing. Abusers are almost always the people we trust the most. These people make it their life's work to ensure that they can win the trust of both parents and children.
It is a long-term grooming process, with entire relationships, families, careers, and lives built around it. There is no occupation, religion, social class, age, gender, sexual orientation, or prior life experience that excludes someone as a possible offender.
These people will charm their way into any walk of life, invent any history, and do as much work as they need to get access to potential victims and avoid suspicion.
They will live their entire life 'in character' if they have to, and almost all are serial offenders. The best thing you can do for your child is be there to support them every step of the way.
Even if they seem fine, make sure they get ongoing professional support from someone who specialises in child abuse, because the effects don't often show until much later in life.
This is an incredibly traumatic experience not only for the victim, but for everyone around them, so make sure that you take some time out and find someone to help you process your feelings too.
Child sexual abuse is a topic nobody wants to talk about. Not only is it an uncomfortable subject, but like most crimes, we assume that 'the system' is taking care of it, and that it couldn't possibly be happening to anyone we know.
The problem is that the less we talk about it, the easier it is for abusers to offend.
• 1 in every 6 boys, and 1 in every 3 girls is a victim of sexual assault before the age of 16 • 93% of abusers are known to the victim
• 80% of abusers are family or close friends
• Between 23% and 40% cases the abuser is another child (this does not include normal childhood curiosity)
• Some sexual abusers are female, but between 86% (male victims) and 94% (female victims) are male.
• Each male abuser of girls has an average of 52 victims • Each male abuser of boys has a staggering average of 150 victims
• Only 3% of these crimes are ever detected (the researchers guarantee anonymity) • Statistically, children living with a parent and their live-in partner are at far greater risk of abuse
• NSW data shows that approximately 15% of reported child sexual abuse cases lead to prosecution, of those only 40% result in a guilty verdict.
• The average custodial sentence for those convicted of child sexual abuse in Australia is 6 years • On average, convicted child sexual abusers serve just over half of their custodial sentence
Could it be happening to someone you know? It is estimated that 1 in every 6 boys, and 1 in every 3 girls, is a victim of sexual assault before the age of 16.
Have a think about how many children you know, and let those numbers sink in. You might not know who they are, but you do know survivors. With statistics like that, we are all personally affected.http://www.facaaus.org/