What to Do if You Suspect Child Sexual Abuse

Kevin BiniazanMay 12, 2021

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. This adage is particularly true when confronting child sexual abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused, your next step forward—who to talk to, how to help, whether to say anything—can feel incredibly difficult. But your greatest responsibility is to say something. 

Whether you’re a parent, family member, teacher, coach, friend, religious leader, or babysitter, by speaking up and defending a child, you could be changing the course of their life for the better. The following offers some tips on how to talk to your child if you do suspect sexual abuse. 

Talking to Your Child

It takes an incredible amount of courage for anyone to come forward with information about sexual assault, especially children. If your child tells you they’ve been sexually abused or they know a child who was abused, consider our suggestions below when determining how you may be able to help. 

If you suspect abuse before your child comes forward, it’s a delicate  situation to navigate. Addressing your fears about child sexual abuse may be your worst nightmare, but it’s important for trustworthy adults to step forward as advocates, especially when children are being taken advantage of. 

As you begin a conversation around child sexual abuse, consider the following suggestions:

  • If your child has come forward, they are likely anxiously awaiting your reaction. Your first response might be panic, but you should try to stay calm and reassure them of your support. Thank your child for breaking their silence and let them know you’re on their side. 
  • If you suspect abuse and want to have a conversation with your child, pick a time and place to do so where they’ll be comfortable. Try to be casual as you approach the topic, as being too serious may feel threatening. 
  • As you continue the conversation, avoid leading questions (like “Did someone touch you in a private place?”) and instead offer them the time and space to tell their story uninterrupted and without judgment. Ask clear questions when the child naturally pauses in conversation. 
  • Avoid judgment and blame, and reassure the child that they are not in trouble. Communicate that the child did nothing wrong, the abuser did, and they are too young to be blamed for adult actions. Be patient and allow the child to speak in their own time as they’re likely very frightened. 
  • Immediately following this conversation, establish a safety plan. Eliminate any opportunities for the abuser to have unsupervised contact with the abuser and, if necessary, establish alternative care for the child. 
  • Report the abuse. If the child’s parents aren’t involved, they should be your first contact. If the abuser is a family member, call the Virginia Department of Social Services CPS Hotline, open 24 hours a day, at (800) 552-7096. This is an important resource for reporting the crime regardless of the perpetrator. If the abuse involves an institutional employee, like a school, church, or other organization, you should also contact the leaders of that organization so that they can take internal steps to protect other children. 
  • Ask for help. This is a terrifying time for your child, but it’s also a scary time to be their parent or caregiver. It’s hard to know which steps come next as you try to protect your child and ensure they move forward without negative consequences. As you consider how to navigate these uncharted waters, reach out to a trained counselor or call the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453. 

When it’s time to think about seeking justice and protecting your rights and those of your child, consult a Virginia child sexual abuse attorney like those at Breit Cantor regarding how to care for your child’s present and future. Our experienced childhood sexual abuse lawyers will work tirelessly to hold the abuser accountable while providing your family with the compassionate support you need to navigate these difficult times. 

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