What Do I Do if a Child Tells Me They Have Been Sexually Abused?
What Do I Say to a Child Who Discloses Sexual Abuse?
What Can I Do to Help a Child Who Has Been Sexually Aubsed?
How Do I Report Sexual Abuse?
For more information about child sexual abuse and prevention, visit our Info and Resources page. What Do I Do if a Child Tells Me They Have Been Sexually Abused? If a child discloses abuse to you, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Believe the child. The most important thing is to believe the child. There is little evidence that children make false allegations of abuse; what is more common is a child denying that abuse happened when it did.
Children have different ways of talking about their lives and remember details differently than adults do. If a child reports sexual abuse that has not actually occurred, it is still a very serious cry for help and it will be important to seek professional support.Be sure to tell the child that you believe him/her. Believing is also the first step to helping the child heal.
- Do not make promises you can't keep. For example, do not promise the child that he/she will never have to see the abuser again. You cannot guarantee that the child will not, and therefore should not promise it. Children will be looking to you for support.
- Reassure the child that the abuse is not his/her fault. The child's greatest fear is that he/she is responsible for the abuse. Additionally, one of the worst tricks abusers play on children is convincing the child into believing he/she is an equal partner in the abuse.
- Stay calm, even though you may feel surprised or upset. Your calmness will reassure the child that he/she hasn't done anything wrong.
- Do not interrogate the child. It can be traumatic for the child to repeat their story numerous times. It is often in the interest of the child to wait for a children's division worker to conduct the interview. When talking to the child, let him/her lead the conversation.
- Report the abuse immediately to the state in which the abuse occurred.
- Call MOCSA. We have a 24-hour Crisis Line with trained advocates that can provide support and direction as you begin to navigate this difficult terrain.
Click on the following links to download our quick tip guides on responding to disclosures.
Believing and supporting the child are two of the best actions to start the healing process. Appropriate and helpful responses to disclosures are as follows:
“I am glad you told me, thank you.”
“You are very brave and did the right thing.”
“I am sorry this happened to you and I wasn’t there to stop it.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I am proud of you for telling me.”
“I need to make a report to people who know how to stop the abuse. There are people who can help us.”
The following are helpful actions to support a child who has been sexually abused:
- Do allow the child to lead the discussion.
- Do answer questions to the best of your ability.
- Do help the child maintain a normal routine. Routine helps children feel safe and settle anxiety.
- Do control your own emotions around the child. Your reactions could make the child feel guilty for upsetting you.
- Do allow the criminal justice system to work.
- Do encourage the child to tell her/his own story in her/his own words.
There are some responses to sexual abuse that can be hurtful and also hinder the child's path to healing and coping with the abuse. The following are actions that should be avoided:
- Don’t ask probing questions
- Don’t respond negatively to the abuse with such comment as, “How could you be so stupid?” or “Why didn’t you try to stop it?”
- Don’t try to ignore the incident; deal with the disclosure. Support the child, report the incident, and get them the help he/she needs.
- Don’t threaten to harm the abuser. If the abuser is his/her parent, the child still loves that parent.
Report abuse to the state in which the abuse occured. You will be asked for the following information when you report. You can still make a report even if you do not know all of the information, but try to be as thorough as possible.
- Name and address of the child and his/her parents or guardians
- Age, sex and race of the child
- Name, age and address of the suspected perpetrator
- Name, address, contact information, and relationship to the victim of the reporter
- Nature and extent of injuries
- Any past incidents that suggest abuse
- Any evidence of abuse
- Other information that can be helpful or relevant to the investigation
In Missouri, call 800.392.3738 Out-of-State call 573.751.3448
In Kansas, call 800.922.5330
National Child Abuse Hotline: 800.422.4453
To report abuse of a person over the age of 18, in Missouri, call 800.392.0210; in Kansas, call 800.922.5330
Click to download the Tip Sheet for Reporting Sexual Abuse