Would you know if your child was sexually abused?
"First of all, I'm super protective, so it could never
happen to my child. Second of all, I would know…I know my child so I would
definitely know." Sound familiar? If it does, you're not alone. Most parents
have this mindset regarding their children and sexual abuse. Reality? Most of
the time, even parents who have the best intentions and love their children
deeply are shocked when they learn that their child is being, or has been,
Why? How can this happen? The answers are not as mysterious
as you might imagine, and sexual predators are masterful at keeping victims
silent. Experts estimate that approximately 90% of sexual abuse victims don't
disclose….and even for the small percentage who do, it's typically not right
away (in fact, for more than half of victims, disclosure doesn't take place for
"But I have a great relationship with my child, we talk
about everything….there's no way that they wouldn't come to me about this."
Surprisingly, even the strongest parent-child bonds can be compromised by a
sexual predator, especially if the predator has a relationship with the victim
and/or the family.
"So you're telling me that my child could be sexually abused,
and even though we've talked about this and I've told them that they should
always come to me, they still might not?" Actually, that's exactly what the
"What can I do?" The best thing to do is continue to
maintain an open, comfortable dialogue about sexual abuse. If a child is not
learning about it elsewhere and they end up being victimized, then the only
narrative they have is the one they hear from their abuser. That narrative
often includes threats, lies, manipulation and fear.
The next best thing to do is look for ways your child may be
telling you something is wrong without actually saying the words. If a child is
sexually abused and then scared into silence by their abuser, they'll be afraid
to say anything, but they won't be able to hide the physical and mental stress
that accompanies the trauma. Watch for the signs that are often subtle and can easily
be explained away. Many parents, after their child discloses, can look back
with hindsight and see that the signs were there long before the disclosure
took place. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Did your child suddenly decide to stop
participating in an activity that they formerly enjoyed?
Did your child end a close friendship without
explanation, and when pressed for a reason they share a questionable excuse? (sudden
ending of a friendship could mean that the friend, or someone close to the friend,
has committed abuse)
Does your child suddenly try to avoid spending
time with an adult or teen who they used to love being with?
Is your child asking a lot of questions about
death or getting arrested or going to jail? (these are some of the threats sexual
predators commonly use)
Is your child experiencing physical symptoms of
stress? Feeling sick to their stomach, wetting the bed, having angry outbursts,
having nightmares or night terrors, etc.
Sometimes, these incidents are exactly as they appear,
sometimes they are manifestations of trauma. You do know your child….and you
know when your child's behavior or demeanor are "off"….that's when it's
important to trust your gut and dig deeper. Children who are victims of sexual
abuse want nothing more than to be freed, but they do not feel empowered to
free themselves, they need you to help them overcome the fear and shame
instilled by their abuser by making sure they know they are loved and safe.
If you're unsure about this
conversation, take advantage of the resources and training programs offered by
Revved Up Kids.