Supporting your child to recover from sexual abuse
Jane Petrie, the NSPCC’s parenting adviser talks about the charity’s new resource for parents who are worried their child has been sexually abused.
For a parent, knowing or suspecting that your child is being sexually abused is incredibly traumatic. It can be difficult to work out what to do about it, and how to make sure your child is protected, particularly if you are unsure whether your suspicions are justified.
Unfortunately two key features of child sexual abuse can make it very hard to identify. Firstly, around three-quarters of children who are abused keep this a secret. The reasons for this vary, and include not thinking anyone will believe them, fear of the abuser, and feeling that they are to blame.
Secondly, the abuser is often known to the child, and trusted by their parent. This may make it more difficult for the child to disclose the abuse, and for a parent to recognise it.
We know it is crucial that children and young people are able to get the help and support they need, as with this they can make a good recovery from the abuse. However, without it, they may develop long term social, emotional and mental health problems.
Identifying the abuse is the first step towards that recovery and to help parents with this, and with other questions they may have, children’s charity the NSPCC has produced a booklet “What can I do? Protecting your child from sexual abuse.” It draws on our research and experience of working with families and children and includes advice from parents and young people who have been affected by child sexual abuse. It answers questions about identifying this type of abuse, advice on how to react if your child tells you they have been a victim of this, and information on where to go for further help.
The booklet also offers guidance on how to move forward. While as a parent your first priority may be to stop the abuse if it is still ongoing, once this has been done you might wonder what you can do. Two things we know really help children are being believed when they speak out and having a parent or carer who continues to support them.
In the words of Hannah,* one of the brave young people who shared her story with us for the booklet:
“Sometimes you’ve kept it a secret for so long that you’re scared of what will happen and what people’s reactions will be. My advice to parents would be to believe their child and listen to what they are saying. That was something I was really afraid of; that no one would believe me. But knowing my parents did made it a whole lot easier.”
Children can and do recover from sexual abuse and a parent’s support can be key to this recovery. But we realise how difficult is to know how to even start dealing with this – and that’s where we at the NSPCC can help. You can download our booklet here or contact us for a free printed copy (quote YMOCT12 in the subject bar, giving us your name, and postal address). You can also contact us if you are worried about your child, or anyone else’s child, and would like to talk to someone. Our trained counsellors offer expert help, advice and support 24/7. It’s free and you don’t have to say who you are. Call 0808 800 5000, text 88858, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nspcc.org.uk/helpline.
Professionals working with children and families
The NSPCC is offering each professional a free pack which includes:
- Five printed copies of ‘What can I do? Protecting your child from sexual abuse’
- A sample pack with a range of NSPCC advice booklets for parents
- Two A4 posters with details of how to contact us if you are worried about a child.
This offer will last until the end of January 2013. To get your sample pack, email email@example.com and quote YMOCT12 in the subject bar, giving us your name, job title, organisation and postal address.
Professionals can also contact the NSPCC to speak to our trained helpline counsellors, 24/7.
Most professionals working with children will work in organisations where there are established child protection procedures for reporting concerns. Our helpline service can be a useful addition to organisational procedures, allowing professionals to discuss their concerns with a child protection expert from an external agency. Our advisers are experienced child protection professionals from a range of disciplines including social work, teaching, counselling and nursing.Call 0808 800 5000, text 88858, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit nspcc.org.uk/helpline
*Hannah’s name has been changed to protect her identity, with her agreement.
There is more information for parents about abuse on the YoungMinds website.