My child has been abused
If you are the parent of a child who has been sexually abused, perhaps by someone closely connected to your family, you face one of the most difficult and challenging situations imaginable. As well as wanting to be strong for your child, you will probably be experiencing powerful and sometimes conflicting emotions of your own. What you want most is for your child to be safe and secure. You want your love to be enough to dispel the hurt and you want to reassure your child that everything is going to be alright. No doubt there will be lots of questions buzzing in your head and some of these may be impossible to answer in the short term.
First things first
The first priority is to make sure that your child is safe and this involves letting Children’s Services know (if they don’t know already) what your child has disclosed. Don’t be afraid to talk openly and frankly to a social worker about what has happened because it is their job, and they have a legal duty, to ensure your child, and also other children who may be at risk, are protected from further abuse. This is another good reason for contacting them. Children’s Services are used to dealing with families in crisis and they will, therefore, handle the situation sensitively, having regard to your thoughts and feelings at this time.
Helping your child recover
Because children are all different, if they have been sexually abused, they will respond to their experiences in different ways. Obviously, the age of the child when the abuse started, how long it continued and the seriousness of what has happened, will have an impact on how the child reacts. Another big factor is the person who perpetrated the abuse and any relationship the child has with them. Generally, the closer the relationship the greater the harm, but there is no set pattern.
You can expect your child to be angry and confused and it is likely some of this upset and emotion is directed towards you. In this situation children need lots of reassurance and, even if you don’t feel like it, your love and acceptance of your child and just being there for them can make a tremendous difference. In time your child may benefit from some professional counselling but don’t rush things because they are unlikely to be ready for this immediately. Some children recover without professional help and it is important to be flexible in response to their needs. Having said this, it is of great help to all children in the aftermath of abuse, to let them talk about what has happened and express their feelings openly.
If your child discloses any new information, then this will need to be passed on to Children’s Services. The most important thing, however, is to listen to your child and not ask lots of questions. It’s the secrecy and shame surrounding sexual abuse, in particular, that does the long-term damage. It is also important that you try not to appear shocked by anything your child says (even though you may feel disgusted and angry) and for you to reinforce the message that it’s not their fault. We know from years of experience of working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse that where children are listened to and taken seriously, and where justice is seen to be done, long term damage is kept to a minimum.
Your own feelings
There may be times when you feel overwhelmed by your emotions. Anger, sadness, loneliness and even shame are all perfectly normal emotions for parents to feel in this situation. Guilt is also a very powerful emotion for many parents and can hit Dads particularly hard because they often feel responsible for protecting their children. It’s reassuring to know you are not alone; sadly, many parents have experienced what you’re going through.
For the Christian, there is an added dimension of anguish and confusion as you ask yourself: “Why my child? Where is God in all of this?” Unfortunately, there are no easy answers and it’s good to have friends nearby who will stick with you as you battle your way through the doubts and questions which are quite natural to anyone whose child has suffered You can expect your child to be angry and confused and it is likely some of this upset and emotion is directed towards you! In this situation children need lots of reassurance and, even if you don’t feel like it, your love for and acceptance of your child and just being there for them can make a tremendous difference.
Parent’s Points... Take a long-term view - don’t rush around trying to sort it all out immediately. You can’t lead your child to a place you have never been yourself. It’s natural to want healing and full recovery but you need to start with yourself. Your child will not necessarily heal or cope with things at the same pace. abuse. It is also important to be on the receiving end of pastoral care yourself, and you shouldn’t be afraid to express your feelings to a trusted and experienced church leader or someone in the prayer ministry team. Prayer can undoubtedly be a great help, but it needs to be sensitive and discerning. It may be that you would also benefit from specialist counselling but, as with your child, this needs to be when you feel ready.
What about the Bible?
Sometimes there can be immense pressure from within the church to deal internally with a situation such as abuse, and Bible verses such as Matthew 18:15-17 or 1 Corinthians 6:1-2 are used to justify such action. However, it should be recognised that the principles contained in these verses concern disputes between adults over something such as property or money, in other words, a civil lawsuit. In such cases, we read that these relatively trivial matters should be resolved within the body of Christ. These principles are not applicable within the context of allegations of sexual abuse, or indeed any abuse of a child.
Child abuse is a criminal, not a civil matter. If these scriptures are referring to a criminal matter, then the instructions in Romans 13 about the jurisdiction of governing authorities become meaningless. This passage gives instruction for dealing with criminal activity, and the authorities are God’s instrument for punishing wrongdoing. It is not an issue between two church members, but between the state and the alleged perpetrator.
Reporting a crime does not go against scripture and at the beginning of Matthew 18, we can be left in no doubt just how seriously Christ viewed offences against children; “Anyone who welcomes a little child in my name, welcomes me, and if anyone causes one of these little ones to sin, it would better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”
What about forgiveness?
Forgiveness is always difficult where people have been hurt. In some Christian circles, victims and their families are put under pressure to forgive when this is not appropriate and before they have had the time to work through the effects the abuse has had on them (a process which may last a lifetime). A parent may also have many questions, including why God seemingly allowed such a thing to happen. Although scripture endorses the principles of forgiveness, it is something which cannot be rushed, and the choices made by those involved must be respected. Coming through You may feel that things are never going to get back to normal and, in one sense, they won’t because however much we might wish it, we cannot turn the clock back.
The impact of what has happened may be felt for a long while, and particularly at significant times in your child’s life. It might be that from time to time your child will want to talk things through again with you or a counsellor. Although what you and your family have been through is horrific, things will get easier and it won’t continuously be at the forefront of your mind. Reading through such scriptures as Psalm 145 and 1 Peter 5:7 may help in the recovery process. As you work through the pain and grief it will lessen, and one day you will be able to accept the nightmare is over.
Here are some useful websites and resources when dealing with the area of child abuse: