Supporting Children in the Aftermath of Sexual Assault: A Parent's Guide
Child sexual assault is a grave and heinous crime that can inflict immense trauma upon its young victims. As parents, caregivers, and guardians, it is our responsibility to provide unwavering support and understanding to children who have experienced such incidents. The aftermath of a sexual assault can be devastating, but with the right approach, children can begin to heal and rebuild their lives. This essay outlines essential facts and guidance to help parents navigate this challenging journey and support their children effectively.
Child Sexual Assault: A Crime of Violence:
First and foremost, it is crucial to understand that child sexual assault, like adult rape, is a crime of violence, not of sex. It is an act of power and domination where an adult uses force, trickery, or coercion against a child. Children are never responsible for sexual assaults; the responsibility solely lies with the adult perpetrator.
Children Rarely Lie about Sexual Assault:
A prevalent misconception is that children may lie about sexual assault. However, it is crucial to recognize that false allegations by children are rare. Their accounts are often genuine, and it is our duty as parents to believe and support them.
Believe Your Child's Report:
Parents must always believe their child's report of a sexual assault. Trust and open communication are vital in helping children heal and regain a sense of security.
Focus on Your Child's Well-being:
When your child confides in you about a sexual assault, it is more important to concentrate on their emotional well-being than the details of the incident. Ask your child how they are feeling and gently encourage them to talk. Creating a safe and empathetic environment is essential.
It is crucial to ensure that other children in the family understand what has happened. Explain it to them in age-appropriate language to prevent fear, confusion, or teasing. Encourage them to be supportive and empathetic towards their sibling.
In the aftermath of a sexual assault, it is essential to maintain normal routines and schedules as much as possible. Children need to stay active, see friends, and have familiar responsibilities at home. Overprotectiveness may be perceived as punishment.
Privacy and Confidentiality:
Respect your child's privacy by not sharing details of the assault with friends and family who do not need to know. This preserves your child's dignity and minimizes potential embarrassment.
No Special Treatment:
Children may perceive special treatment as punishment, so it is essential to let them know they are loved and accepted as they were before the assault.
Child sexual assault is a traumatic experience, but parents play a crucial role in helping their children heal. By providing unwavering support, love, and understanding, we can help them recover from the emotional scars and regain their sense of security and self-worth. Remember that our focus should always be on our child's well-being and their day-to-day improvement. With the right support, children can move beyond the trauma and build a brighter future.
How Can You Help Your Child After An Assault?
By Kristin Leest
Following a sexual assault:
- Your child will look to you for comfort, love, and safety.
- Stay calm
- Create Reassurance and belief of what you are being told
- Explain the assault was not your fault
- He or she is not to blame for the crime.
- You care and are always available if he or she wants to talk.
- You will try your best to protect him or her.
Common Feelings Shared by child victims of Sexual Assault
By Kristin Leest
Of the perpetrator
Of causing trouble
Of losing adults important to them
Of being taken away from home
Of being “different”
At the perpetrator
At other adults around them who did not protect them
At themselves (feeling as if they caused trouble)
Because “something is wrong with me”
Because they feel that they are alone in their experience
Because they are “weird” for having been sexually abused
Because they have trouble talking about the abuse
About growing up too fast
About “causing trouble” in the family
About losing a part of themselves
About having a part taken from them
For “causing” the abuse
For being “bad” since the abuse occurred
For not being able to stop the abuse
For telling on the perpetrator - if they told
For keeping the secret - if they did not tell
For enjoying parts of the abuse
About being a part of the experience
About their bodies’ responses to the abuse As a parent, you also need support. You do not always have to be a “super parent”.
A counselor trained in child sexual assault or a rape crisis advocate may be able to help you:
- Sort out feelings (guilt, anger, and grief, etc.).
- Determine what to do next.
- Help others in the family deal with the assault.
- Help your child.
PREVENTATIVE MEASURES TO PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN FROM SEXUAL ASSAULT
By Kristin Leest
- being alert to your surroundings
- Know the location, street name, surrounding buildings, in case it becomes necessary for you to call 911.
- Listen to your instincts.
- If you feel uncomfortable or in danger in any given situation, leave immediately.
- Learn to be observant of people around you.
- What color eyes do they have?
- What are they wearing?
- Notice their teeth, tattoos, their size, hairstyle, or any other distinguishable features.
Source: New York City Detective Bureau
SAFEGUARDING YOUR HOME FROM A CHILD PREDATOR
By Kristin Leest
- Avoid sleeping with your windows open.
- Have peepholes on your doors and use them. If you do not recognize who is at your door, do not open it, even with the chain on. Most chain locks can easily be kicked in.
- Do not open the door to service people unless you are expecting them. Call their employer and verify their identity and the reason they need to enter your home.
- If a stranger asks to use your phone, do not let the person enter. Offer to make the call for them.
- Do not buzz someone into the building or hold the lobby door open unless you know the person.
- Have the number to 911 programmed into your telephone.
- Be mentally prepared for the possibility of being attacked and what possible actions you would take if confronted.
- Install safety-approved gates or bars on windows that can be reached from fire escapes on the ground floor.
- In your home or apartment, you will also want to make sure your entrance is well lit. Install security lights in areas where people can hide. Keep your doors locked and blinds pulled. Do not advertise your full name in the phone book on the mailbox. Your initials and last name are all that is needed. Invest in a paper shredder and shred any personal identifying envelopes or papers.
Source: New York City Detective Bureau
HOW TO BEGIN THE PROCESS OF HEALING AFTER CHILD ABUSE: UNDERSTANDING THE STAGES OF HEALING
By Kristin Leest
Beginning the healing process of child abuse and trauma can be difficult but it is possible. Understanding the stages of healing and where you or your child is, is important to help you continue to move forward.
Six Stages Of Healing
Stage One: Grief, Denial, and Awareness
After trauma, there is a stage of grief and denial in the victim. They may be trying to understand just exactly what happened. Often it is difficult to accept what happened and many times we try and make sense of something senseless. We may have been taken advantage of by a friend, family member, or coach often someone we have put great trust in. It can even cause the victim to deny what had happened and try to find a way to make themselves think it was their fault or something they asked for. How could someone they love and trust do something that would hurt them? All of these thoughts go through a victim's head in the beginning stages of overcoming trauma. In this stage increasing awareness of their emotions is so important. Naming what they feel is so fundamental and considering a counselor who specifies in child trauma will be important in getting the right kind of healing. It is at this stage a person is in a great need to understand their feelings. Uncover your feelings and your needs to move forward and maintain or find happiness will help to motivate the victim and power them to take action on their emotional needs and how they need to move forward and recover.
Stage Two: Anger and Expression
Emotions are a valuable tool to gauge where you are in the healing process. They help a person reason and reach the stage of self-actualization. Often we can understand the feelings we have but to feel them and accept them are two different things. At this stage, emotionally focused therapy is helpful and can be facilitated by a trained professional.
Stage Three: Regulation
The stage of regulation is also intertwined with your emotions. Emotions tell you what hurts, is wrong, or untrue and you use those feeling to help yourself identify a goal, solve a problem or concern and find new ways of coping with life.
Stage Four: Depression
This doesn't happen to everyone however it is very common and is apart of the next phase of expressing emotions. If the stages before this have not been reached a victim can become depressed. Learning to vent and talk through your emotions (anxiety, shame, and guilt) will take you away from avoiding the real underlying feelings. If you haven't been expressing what you feel in therapy it is hard to get clarity and uncover your underlying concerns created by the trauma and point you forward.
Stage Five: Reflection and Regulation
The next phase begins with emotional processing and learning to regulate the emotions and manage the triggers associated with the trauma. Emotions need to be regulated when anxiety and distress are so high and you find it difficult to emotionally adapt to your environment. Learning ways to calm those feelings will be important in this stage. Knowing that you need to create an environment that is safe, calming, validating, and empathetic. Surrounding yourself with people that bring out those emotions will be important to a victim's recovery. Creat this environment and it begins to heal the heart. Giving the victim a chance for reflection. It creates a new positive strength-based purpose out of our suffering. This is the chance as we are more and more able to tell and retell our story, we find it hurts less. We become tired of it and uncover a new inspiration or meaning behind our experience leading to transformation.
Stage Six: Transformation and Corrective Experiences
After understanding your emotions on a higher level. Coming through the phase of acceptance to what has happened you find that you are ready to move forward. You want to shake off the old feelings and emotional pain. You are ready to see results in the new you and you do this as you move forward. Now you can begin a new experience and change the old emotional emotions. Create experiences with new people and change or correct the old negative emotional patterns we were conditioned from in earlier times.
IMMEDIATE EFFECTS OF ABUSE ON A CHILD VICTIM
By Kristin Leest
Damaged Goods Syndrome
• No physical impairment.
• Presume physical injury.
• Suffer fear and anxiety.
• Following disclosure.
• Consequence of the child feeling responsible for participation.
• Disclosing the "secret."
• Subsequent disruption of family.
• Fearful of the consequences.
• Fear of subsequent episodes, physical reprisals, being separated. Depression
• Signs may be overt.
• Sad or withdrawn.
• Masked by fatigue, illness or self-mutilation. Low Self-Esteem
• Being different, alone, used, spoiled or damaged.
• Feel helpless. • Passive.
• Little self-esteem.
• Interact poorly socially.
• Feel inferior.
• Derogatory terms.
• Initiate sexual relationships in an attempt to prove themselves worthy.
• Inwardly seething.
• Calm, passive outward.
• Angry at perpetrator and at those who failed to protect them.
• Anger is often repressed, manifested by depression or withdrawal.
Inability to Trust
• Degree of damage.
• Relationship of the perpetrator.
• Degree of pain or injury.
• Pleasure and advantages derived.
• The amount of disruption.
• Positive and negative feelings for the perpetrator.
• Nurturing, presents and rewards.
• Disclosure can result in feelings or rejection, betrayal and alienation.
• Eroding the ability to trust.
• Society defines the roles within a family in a clear fashion.
• Resentment, competition and alienation and poor communication.
Reactions of Victims
• Experienced in all degrees.
• Children do not immediately reject or hate someone from whom they have derived security and feelings of affection.
• Most cases, however, the child has both positive and negative feelings for the perpetrator.
Feelings of Anger Toward the Non-offending Parent
• Whether this parent consciously knew about the sexual abuse or not is not significant.
• This anger may be more intense if the child did indeed tell the non-offending parent about the abuse and was either not believed or ignored.
LONG TERM EFFECTS OF CHILD ABUSE FOR ADULT SURVIVORS
By Kristin Leest
• Migraines. Physical Illnesses
• Pelvic disorders.
• Problems with sexual organs, asthma, arthritis.
• Number of reasons to blame self.
• Told by the offender.
• Try to find a reason why.
• Must have been bad.
• Non-supportive, a non-offending parent didn’t believe them.
• Removed from their family.
• Family may have did vided its loyalties.
• Might have experienced sensual or sexual pleasure.
• Not unusual for the only attention or love the child received was through the sexually abusive acts. Fear of
• The abuser abusing them again.
• The abuser retaliating against them.
• Being different.
• Bodily damage.
• Fear of the unknown. Fear of repeating the family pattern.
• Fears over time can develop into paranoia or cause panic attacks that restrict a victim/survivor’s life functioning.
• Results from the tremendous sense of loss.
• Loss of oneself.
• Loss of one’s family.
• Loss of one’s childhood.
• Loss of one’s control over life.
• Overwhelming variety of feelings and problems.
• Shut out others.
• World has not been a safe place.
• Identify themselves predominantly in terms of having been victimized.
• Internalize this image as negative, dirty, or damaged.
• Told directly. • By being the object of victimization.
• Felt uncared for, undeserving, worthless, and humiliated.
• Worthless and humiliated.
• Don’t recognize the inner strength and courage to have endured such trauma.
• This inhibits the initial momentum to start the healing process and recognize their right to live free from victimization.
Anger (may be evident due to)
• Lack of protection.
• Disruption in present relationships.
• Go through a painful process.
• Anger if not expressed openly, been turned inward as a previous coping mechanism that was necessary for survival.
• Result in self-destructive patterns.
• Necessary part of the healing process is getting in touch with this anger.
• Placing in the proper source.
• express it in a healthy way.
Inability to Trust
• Bond of trust is violated.
• Carry this distrust to adult relationships.
• Related to the individual’s ability to trust their own feelings, perceptions, and judgment regarding the world around them.
Role Boundary Confusion
• Particularly if it occurred between family members.
• No clear boundaries. • Not even clear physical boundaries or private space.
• Bedroom doors removed, no locks. • Position of the housekeeper, sexual parent, caretaker.
• Necessary part of healing is grieving.
Issues of Power/Control
• Power and control have been taken.
• In an attempt to regain control, become very authoritarian, inflexible
• Another example of victimization of younger children to try to re-enact what happened to them and regain control.
• Other ends of the spectrum is developing relationships with people that are perceived as having more power and control than themselves.
• This essentially is a continuance of the role of a weaker, powerless person who is devoid of assertiveness skills.
• Isolated in order to keep the secret.
• Role reversal.
• Barrier between the child and his or her peers.
• Carries into adulthood.
• Poor development of healthy social skills.
• Society also further isolates and stigmatizes sexual abuse victims with insensitivity, uncomfortableness, and victim-blaming.
• Learning unhealthy patterns.
• Final long-term effect.
• Re-writing this family script of dealing.
Sexual Intimacy Concerns
• Normal sexuality.
• Learn to respect their bodies.
• Own their bodies
• Sexually abused child has had this normal sexuality development interrupted.
• Their body is not theirs.
• Do not learn how to say "No."
• Touch is associated with hurt.
• Confusion. • Negative self-body image.
• Covering the body with tots of layers of clothes.
• Being large in body size and unapproachable or thin.
Other Sexual Intimacy Concerns
• Feel unclean, damaged.
• Interferes with establishing healthy sexual relationships as an adult
• Touch is equated with negative, fearful.
• Message is sex is bad, sex is dirty.
• Feelings and experiences may in adulthood is through sexualizing all relationships.
• To be loved, cared for, and ask for sex.
• May sexualize even non-sexual needs.
• Establishing intimate relationships as adults, may not know how to give or receive nurturing.
• Close physical experience may be threatening or uncomfortable. • Sabotage relationships. Escape/Addictions/Self-Abuse
• Resultant behavior from the long-term effects of sexual abuse is self-destructive.
• Escape the painful memories.
• Drug or alcohol abuse.
• Eating addiction.