Child sexual abuse involves unwanted and uncomfortable viewing or touching of the body, breasts, and genital areas and forced sexual activity.
Sexual abuse of a child happens when the child cannot understand or is too young to legally agree to sexual activity. Since most children seek approval from adults, they are vulnerable to abuse. The use of physical force is rarely necessary.
What Should I Do if a Child Tells Me that Someone is Abusing Her/Him?
- Keep calm. It is very important to remain calm. The child may think that your anger is directed towards her/him rather than the abuser. Use comforting expressions as the child is relating her/his story.
- Believe the child. In most cases, children do not lie about sexual abuse. Let the child know that you believe her/him. Tell the child that the abuse was not her/his fault.
- Listen to the child. Let the child tell you what happened in her/his own words. Expect that the story may be incomplete. Typically, details come out as time goes by. Young children, in particular, may not know how to explain what has happened to them. Some children may deny the incident ever occurred. Many children feel overwhelming shame and guilt, especially if the child is trying to keep her/his family intact. Be patient.
- Seek medical attention. The child may be suffering internal injuries that you cannot see. A medical exam can also provide valuable evidence. A PAAR medical advocate can meet you at the hospital by calling 1-866-END-RAPE (1-866-363-7273). If outside Allegheny County, have hospital personnel contact your local rape crisis center.
- Contact ChildLine. If you suspect child abuse, contact ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. You can remain anonymous.
- REMEMBER…It is important to help the child focus on healing, recovery and reclaiming childhood.
What Shouldn't I Do?
- Go into a rage. Do not respond by becoming angry. This will confuse and frighten the child, making her/him avoid talking to you.
- Overwhelm the child. Do not stand over or invade the child’s personal space. This may make the child feel powerless and intimidated. Do not pressure the child to talk if she/he is not ready. You are not trained to “interview” a child victim.
- Make promises. Do not make any promises that you are not sure you will be able to keep. Do not promise things like: you will never be hurt again or the person that hurt you will go to jail. Do not break the bond of trust.
- Confront the rapist. Confronting the rapist, especially in front of the child, may be harmful or dangerous. Leave this to the police.