It’s Not About You – Handling Disclosure

CSA is a crime committed against a child and because it is usually kept a secret between the child and his or her abuser, the child is forced to carry the secret alone and to deal with the very difficult dilemma without guidance or support. However once the secret is revealed, child sexual abuse grows from an individual problem to a family and community crisis. First and foremost, once such information is revealed, it is an adult’s responsibility to report the abuse so that that particular child and any potential victims are protected. Next to prevention and protection is the  treatment for the abused child and a legal investigation of the abuse. It is at this point that medical doctors, social workers, the state agency, the court system and psychologists become involved. Ideally, the disclosure of abuse should lead to the protection of the child from any further abuse by the perpetrator.

Unfortunately, sometimes the disclosure of CSA has a horrendous consequence. Sadly, the revelation frequently divides the family and worsens the survivor’s trauma. For a child or even an adult survivor, to carry a secret and burden for any period of time and then to eventually develop the courage to speak out only to be met with disbelief and/or ambivalence is a set back for the survivor. It is indeed another form of victimization. Ultimately, the survivor experiences a tremendous sense of betrayal from their family and a perceived lack of support. Many children are asked to leave the home,  put out onto the street or runaway.  Survivors not only experience family separation but are frequently ostracized, threatened, bullied or cast aside by family.  Obviously none of these scenarios have the best interest of the  survivor in mind. Actually, this sort of response, points to the inability of families to adequately deal with reports of abuse.

Our First Priority

Our first priority is to immediately REPORT ABUSE. At best, the report will lead to a criminal investigation and subsequent arrest and incarceration of the guilty party.  Although the family may have a very limited ability to direct the legal case, they do have the power and control to keep the child away from the abuser.

Disbelief

The horrible truth is that frequently parents and family don’t believe survivors. Survivors are blatantly told that they made the abuse up. This disbelief is usually coupled with a defense of the accuser and an attack on the survivor’s character. Common remarks of family and close friends about the abuser may include:

  • I don’t believe _______ would ever do such a thing.
  •  ________ is such a nice person – very friendly and loves children.
  • ____________ works very hard in our community.
  • _______ has never been in trouble with the law.

Here are common attacks on the survivor’s character

  • Well you must have caused it!
  • You are lying – you only want to break up your mother’s relationship.
  • You are selfish and spoiled.
  • You are the problem.
  • You drink and smoke and are in trouble at school – you can’t be trusted.

Offering Support

No one wants to hear that  any child has been abused – especially their own. However, when a child trusts you enough to tell you something like this the last thing that they need is rejection. In all honesty it is very premature and presumptuous to conclude that the survivor is lying. Child sexual abuse almost never happens directly in the presence of the child’s parents or another adult. So since you can not without a shadow of doubt confirm that the abuse didn’t happen, it is in the child’s best interest to trust their account of what happened. Again, please refrain from telling the child that they are lying. Remember at the moment of disclosure it is not about you as an adult. It is about the protection of the child. The adult’s opinion, perception and beliefs should be immediately laid aside. Next, don’t proclaim that you will cause serious harm to the abuser. This will probably frighten the child. Instead reassure the child that you are proud of them for telling the truth, that they are brave, that they are loved and that you will do everything in your power to protect that child from the abuser. And then, over the next several weeks, months and years… back it up.

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