Parents: I Just Found Out My Son/Daughter
Was Sexually Abused As a Child
Let me start by saying that I’m very sorry this has happened to your child. It’s unimaginably horrible, and you have every right to feel angry and upset.
I want to walk you through some information. First of all I have seen people heal from childhood sexual abuse. It is possible. You never forget, but you can heal and go on to enjoy life.
I want to tell you a little bit about childhood sexual abuse. A child is affected by the abuse whether it happened once or many times – since the damage is incurred immediately. No matter what the nature of the abuse was – it affects the child. This includes being flashed, being raped, being fondled, being forced to watch sexual acts or porn, being talked to in a sexual way, being watched while changing or bathing growing up and many other forms of invading the childs self.
Not everyone understands the problems that can be caused by childhood sexual abuse and emotional abuse – don’t get discouraged if you don’t understand and find many people – even professionals who don’t understand. We do understand.
Your child has suffered horrors that you can’t even imagine. The emotional scars caused by the trauma of childhood sexual abuse can be enormous, and will be manifested in behaviors you don’t understand. Remember that the hurt that troubled children create is NEVER greater than the hurt they feel. The behaviors will be triggered by innocent objects or comments, and you will not understand how such an innocent thing can trigger such strong reactions. You won’t understand these reactions, or how they are related to the childhood sexual abuse. You won’t understand why the hurt is so enormous. You won’t understand why something that happened so long ago can still affect her so severely.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to understand.
he only thing you need to know is that your child is in pain – horrible pain.
The pain is not going away, it’s actually getting worse, and it’s frightening. You need to know that healing is possible.
Here is what you must do and what you must not do:
(The following is written for a female survivor, but please understand that all of this can apply to a male survivor too)
Believe her – even if she doubts herself, believe it. People very rarely (less than 1%) make up stories of abuse and as she is opening up about what happened the pain she is having to feel and face is so great that she herself might sometimes want to believe that it did not happen. This is a part of the process of healing.
Validate her feelings: anger, pain, fear, etc. These are natural, healthy responses. She needs to feel them, express them, and be heard.
Let her know that you are open to hearing anything she wishes to share.
Let her take her time. It might not be easy for her to start talking about an event that she has kept silent about for a long time. She might never want to talk to you about it. Respect her feelings and decisions. Recognize the courage it takes for a her to speak to anyone about it. It takes a great deal of courage to face up to fears and also to talk about any sexual experience.
Join with her in validating the damage and be clear that abuse is never the survivor’s fault. No one asks to be abused and the blame lies with the abuser – only with the abuser.
Resist seeing her as a victim. Continue to see her as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming her own life.
She needs your absolute loyalty. Respect the time and space it takes to heal, and encourage her to get support. But remember that she can only do it at a pace she can handle and that can be very slow at times.
Try to understand her perspective. Let her make her own decisions – even if you think the decisions she is making are wrong, don’t force her to do what you think is best. Rather encourage her to regain her sense of control and to get therapy.
Get help if she is suicidal.
Accept that there will very likely be major changes in your relationship with her as she heals.
Respect her need to go through stages in the healing process. If she feels like crying, let her, it can be part of her healing process.
Let her know how you feel – don’t hide your feelings. What you hear may shock, scare or hurt you, but let her know that it is okay to feel the way they do, even though it may hurt your feelings. Try not to be scared of your emotions. You will be able to concentrate on her more once you understand your own reactions.
Don’t make her support you – although it is good for you to share your feelings with her, it is important that you don’t make her feel that she must help you to feel better – she needs to concentrate on herself for now.
Messages that are important for her to receive during the healing process:
*I believe you.
*It’s not your fault.
*I’m interested in hearing more.
*Let me go through it with you this time.
*Tell me what you’re remembering.
*How can I help you feel safe?
*It’s a normal response to a horrible experience.
*Help me understand.
*Nothing you can say will push me away.
*Feelings aren’t rational, they just ‘are’.
*I’d feel angry too.
*If there are things you don’t want to share with me, it’s OK.
Do Not …
Do not tell her to forget about it. Do not say “it happened a long time ago, why does it suddenly bother you now?” Healing can take time and some people block or try to forget traumatic events. This is a way of coping with what has happened. Remembering can be triggered by events such as the birth of a baby, a TV programme, marriage, changing jobs, starting a new relationship, death of an abuser, something they see etc.
Do not ask her why she did not fight back. People can freeze when confronted with a terrifying situation.
Do not ask why she did not say anything sooner. Most people do try to tell someone at some time, but might not be believed or ignored or told to forget about it.
Do not tell her what to do. She needs to be in control of her own decisions about matters that affect her. You can help her to explore options that are available to her.
Do not pressure her into doing, or talking about things she is not ready to face. When she is ready she will speak.
Messages that can sound blaming and discouraging:
*Did you try to stop the abuse/assault?
*Did you provoke it?
*Did you try to tell someone?
*Why didn’t you try to do more at the time?
*Why were you in that situation in the first place?
*Why do you think it happened to you?
*You can’t blame others for your problems all your life.
*Aren’t you over it yet?
*Can’t we stop thinking/talking about it for a while?
*We’ve all had bad things happen to us, you are not special.
*That’s not something I’d go around talking about if I were you.
*Can’t you just forget about it and get on with your life?
*Pretend it never happened.
Recovery will take a long time; that’s a fact of life.
If you’re deeply spiritual or religious, here’s another thing you need to know. Turning to religion instead of pursuing therapy does not work. However, many people use religion as a source of strength and hope to augment and enhance their therapy, and that does work. Do not consider therapy to be a rejection of religion. Therapy works to heal, and healing is a sacred act that is celebrated by every major religion. That knowledge is a gift from God, and pursuing therapy is a celebration of God’s gift.
Resources that will help your daughter and that you too can read to educate yourself as well:
Get the book
It is not unusual that she is experiencing various problems. People abused as children suffer from many of the same feelings and consequences as she is suffering from (take a look at this list)
Bradley R & Johnson-Marshall C., “A Safe Place To Begin” Harper Collins
Davis, L., “Allies in Healing : When the Person you Love was Sexually Abused as a Child” Harper Collins
Brown, C., “Child Abuse, Parents Speaking” School of Advanced Urban Studies
The last thing you need to know is that this is your ultimate test. You are Winston Churchill during the Battle of Britain. You are Martin Luther King giving his speech in Washington. You are Susan B. Anthony facing a rioting mob. How you handle this crisis will shape the rest of your life.
This is your time. You are strong enough. Your love is strong enough. You can do it!
What about your feelings? Maybe you don’t think you can handle this?
The feelings you are experiencing are justified, but may add to the upset for your daughter. She may feel responsible for upsetting you. Seek support and deal with your feelings with someone else. You might need to go to counseling or join a support group – do what you need to do to look after yourself.
Here are some options for support for you:
Lifeline South Africa: 0861-322-322
Online Support Group: !!!!!*****BAD LINK*** http://groups.msn.com/ChildSexualAbuseAParentsPerspective/_homepage.msnw?&pps=k
When we are put in situations like this many things can happen, we loose our trust of people, we feel powerless, we become afraid of many things and our whole perception of the world can change. This is normal. We all know that bad things happen in the world, but it is something distant that happens to other people. When it happens to your family, you can be left feeling out of control.
However we react it is human, we need to reach out for help now and use the resources around us.
Realise that her pain is temporary, but denial of what has happened and it’s consequences are forever.
If others can recover – THEN SO CAN YOUR CHILD.
You are welcome to keep in contact with Rape Crisis Helderberg and talk to us about what is happening WRITE TO US.
Courage to heal, it is one of the best books she will ever own to help her through every stage of recovery – sometimes it is very difficult to read, but it helps and it makes a lot of sense.
Boundaries is excellent and really hits the places that are damaged that need fixing, helping her to reclaim her life.
She is not alone.
This might not all apply to her and it might unsettle you thinking about these things, but unfortunately it is real.
She can recover from almost everything she might be struggling with on the list.