Hit with a discovery of sexual abuse on your child? Here you’ll find some help on how to manage such a situation.
In this article, you found ways on how to establish a dialogue with children to keep them from being abused. The second article discussed how adults should act to remove doubt and identify possible abuse of the child.
In the unfortunate case where abuse has indeed occurred, let us take a look at how to manage the situation.
As in the last two articles, I work with the book
“Prevent, Detect and Manage Child Sexual Abuse – Should we talk to children about It?”,
written by Gérald Brassine.
Sadly enough, this book exists only in French and Spanish. I worked with the French version, and translated parts of it into English. All page numbers are from that French version.
The author tells us at the beginning of this chapter: (p 67)
“My focus is essentially on the relational and emotional aspects of the family environment.”
In the foreword to the book, he clarifies the reasons:
“Because I am a psychotherapist and not a lawyer, I only deal with the private aspect of the issue of pedophilia. My proposals do not replace the steps to be taken with the judicial authorities to denounce proven facts.” (p.12)
In trying to summarize this chapter in one article, I found myself faced with a very difficult task: Each of these 40 pages was filled with information and explanations that I consider very valuable to dealing with this topic and managing a situation of abuse.
I then decided to limit this article to a very practical aspect.
If you find yourself in a situation of abuse that needs to be managed, this article will give you some ideas, put you on a track.
Depending on the country you live in, different organization and professionals exist which are capable to help you in the process of managing Child sexual Abuse. If you need some help in that matter, mail me to my inbox and I will use my connections to forward you to professional help on this issue.
So, let’s take a look at a couple of important steps to deal with child abuse.
Listen to the story of abuse (p.68)
The abuses, blackmail and locks imposed by the abuser are extremely varied. Revelations, after prevention, will therefore take very different forms, too.
But it is important to know that talking does not give the child the impression that it will relieve him or her.
In most cases, speaking exposes the victim to threats from the abuser, to guilt, shame, disbelief, the risk of disappointment and, finally, to the possible risk of reactivating the trauma they are desperately trying to avoid.
This is why some children will remain locked in a deep silence before speaking. Others will suddenly tell the story; others will drop the information in droves.
But in any case, it is essential that the child recounts to his or her family members the abuse he or she has suffered. That the child can express himself with confidence, without fear and shame and tell what happened to him – this recitation will have a therapeutic value for him. At that time, it is imperative that this adult quickly and clearly identifies the details of the circumstances of the abuse and, if possible, the abuser, because he or she should now be able to speak for a child victim whom society may maltreat.
Troubles in society (p70)
What does “a society that is likely to maltreat the child victim” mean?
Well, some psychologists think that making the child talk and asking him to tell the abuse will do him good while other psychologists demand that he be silenced and that nothing be said so as not to revive the pain and create “secondary victimization”, i. e. a psychological state in which each repetition will be experienced as a new session of torture.
The police will need an accurate and detailed testimony to validly conduct an investigation that will not result in anything if the main person involved remains silent.
Later, the judiciary must question everything when it comes to determine the extent of the sentence.
A child suffers from having to tell or keep quiet in places and in front of people he or she does not know. Similarly, parents find themselves completely disoriented at a time when they are already in severe distress.
In the face of these troubles, it is not surprising that some people choose to remain silent.
Return to family and friends (p.71)
But the most important thing in all this is to realize that the management of the abuse and dealing with the suffering of the abused child will have to be done mainly in the family environment.
The reference adult should, as far as possible, represent him or her, after gathering as much information as possible for a minimum of suffering.
Congratulate the child for his courage (p.73)
Silence, as we have seen, is imposed on the child in a very powerful way by a manipulative and threatening abuser.
The author emphasizes that the adult should therefore neither feel betrayed by the child who has remained silent, nor feel guilty of not having heard or understood the child, but he should obviously refrain from reproaching him.
What is really important is that the adult congratulates the child on his courage and repeats to him how much he loves him, how much he admires courage, how much he does not blame him.
It is also important that when listening to revelations, it is important not to let oneself be guided by one’s emotions and to keep control of one’s expressions in such a way as not to put on brakes; one must avoid expressions such as:
“It is impossible!”,
“It is unthinkable!”,
“It is not true!”,
“I cannot believe it”,
all formulas that prove the abuser right, who told the child that nobody would believe it.
Therefore, we must also avoid reacting in violent terms:
“I will smash his face” or
“I will kill him”
because these untimely statements may frighten the child to the point of making him retract.
WHEN THE CHILD DOES NOT FEEL BELIEVED OR HEARD, HE OR SHE SUFFERS THE GREATEST TRAUMA, EVEN MORE DESPERATE THAN THE ABUSE ITSELF.
Removing the child’s guilt (p.76)
It is important to explain to the child that:
- he or she is a victim and that only the adult is 100% responsible and guilty of the sexual acts he or she has caused him or her to suffer.
- It is not his fault that he has not been able to put an end to the abuser’s actions himself, because only an adult can detain another adult. Even if a child would have this ability it should never be expected to resist on its own.
- It is important to be careful to always talk about “revelations”, “information” or ” accounts” about what the child is saying, and never “confessions” because this term is reserved for the guilty.
Talking about the abuser as a patient you can help, or as someone you think is kind (p. 77)
The abuser – most often a member or friend of the family – is all the nicer to his surrounding because a friendly attitude in public helps him/her to hide the violence he/she is practicing in private. Therefore, to call the abuser “evil” when he was known to everyone as “kind” troubles the child.
Calling the pedophile “sick” rather than “evil” will help the child to recognize him or her. By speaking in this way, the child is offered not to accuse but to help the “sick” adult who abuses him/her.
Knowing who the abuser is and what his or her blackmail are (p.78)
A commitment must be made to the child to immediately stop the abuse and to address it, with or without the assistance of the courts. But to do this, you need to know the circumstances of the abuse – “who, what, when, how, etc.” and ask the right questions.
Asking open-ended questions… (p.79)
It is important here to be precise and sensitive. It is essential to avoid asking suggestive or closed questions, i.e. questions that can only be answered with “yes” or “no”, such as:
“Did you see the hard penis of Doe?”,
“Did he touch you between the legs?”
Acting by suggestion does not help anyone and may result in false accusations with serious consequences.
We must therefore ask open-ended questions, i.e. those that require an explanation or comment. For example, to identify the abuser and the nature of the abuse:
“Who did what to you?”
This way, your question would not have induced the answer and you would have a better chance of approaching the truth.
To dare to know! (p.81)
As important as it is not to suggest to the child, it is also useful to dare to ask open-ended questions in order to know concretely and precisely what is happening and how it is happening:
What actions does he/she do?”;
“What does he/she request you to do?”;
“How many times has this happened?”;
“Where and when?”
We must identify the circumstances without, of course, suggesting them: at home, at school, in the car, at night when you are sleeping…
Finally, it is necessary to discover the padlocks posed by the abuser:
“What did he tell you that would happen if you talked about it?”
The author proposes to accompany a child (or even an adult in therapy) with the following useful tools:
- Take note! (p.82)
Sometimes a child will be very slow to talk and will only reveal the facts in a few drops or, on the contrary, he will drop everything at once. In all cases, it is necessary to note what he says as he says it, with the exact words and sentences he uses, putting them in quotation marks.
- Doctor’s book, hospital book, garbage book (p.84)
We can make a notebook, that contains the notes of his revelations, a natural and sympathetic actor in the healing process. Whenever the child seems to want to talk, the adult will suggest that he or she share his or her memories with the present therapeutic notebook, a notebook that the child will be asked to name himself or herself. By inviting the child to reveal and heal his suffering in this way, the adult does not force him to speak, but allows him to express himself. Without hurting him again, the adult shows his openness to hearing and, at the same time, he learns to accept the reality he is experiencing and to “dare to know”.
- The lock (p.93)
If the abuser lives under the same roof as the victim, there are immediate measures to be taken. In practical terms, it is essential to place an interior lock – simple for a child to use – on the doors of the children’s room and those of the bathroom and toilet.
The author describes a situation where a 15-year-old girl had implied to some girlfriends that she was being abused by her father.
When interviewed, the girl denied having had any difficulties of this kind. The social worker used, respectfully and not accusing anyone, the principles set out here and suggested that, to silence the gossip and reassure everyone to put a lock on the bedroom door.
Over the following nights, the father came to beg the teenager to open the door and she refused. After 15 days, the father, who, until then, had never used physical violence but a padlock of seduction and love – “it’s because I love you” – to abuse his daughter, waited for her, ambushed her in the living room, and threw himself on her to rape her. From then on, the teenager filed a complaint herself, and she understood that her mother was unaware of all the father’s actions.
If this example ends, unfortunately, badly, we see nevertheless that the lock is a simple technique to prevent the abuser or unmask him.
- Prevention – a psychological barrier (p.94)
By metaphor, one could say that prevention sets a barrier – of a psychological nature – that will similarly allow the abuser to be countered.
Protecting yourself (p.94)
Brothers and sisters must be systematically informed of what has happened because it has several uses: the abused child thus receives the support, recognition and protection of his or her brothers and sisters. In this way, all children ensure mutual protection to protect themselves against future abuses.
The author explains:
A mistake not to make is to think that we “must not disturb the other children” with what happened to one of them and to consider that “It is bad enough as it is, we must not alert everyone.”
Reasoning in this way leads straight to isolating the victim, without anyone knowing why, and to making other children ideal prey for the abuser since they are not informed. In other words, it is the same as helping the abuser by preparing an isolated area in advance; it is dangerous behavior.
Finally, the author explains at length the benefits of:
Writing to the abuser (p.98)
“From a relational point of view, the victim, by asking for an apology, stops positioning himself as guilty and refuses to hide any longer. (…) This letter is a kind of “poor man’s grenade” that many do not dare to write, but those who do realize that it challenges them in a good way and that the support follows – the victim is no longer isolated, oppressed… – which constitutes a formidable therapy. And even if you don’t write or send the letter, just thinking about it already helps a lot.
What should be written? The content needs to be adapted according to the case, but can remain very simple. However, it will be a matter of mentioning specific facts and it will be important to be careful with the terms used because in the event of vague allegations, the letter could be considered a threat of blackmail. The abuser can also be informed that the padlock no longer works and that we are now able to talk, to tell the story and to make it known around us.