What should I do if I suspect sexual abuse?

Jan 8, 2020 | Sexual Abuse

No matter if you are a parent, teacher, relative, or trusted family friend, it is your responsibility to help a child in need. That is why it is so crucial that adults take the proper steps if they believe a child is being abused. Kids might not be forthcoming about their experiences, especially if the abuser has used threats against the child or their family. The following are a few ways to approach the situation so you can get the child the help that he or she so desperately needs. 

Look for certain signs 

The signs of abuse can manifest themselves in a number of ways. The child may exhibit physical cues of abuse, which can include bruises, broken bones, and complaints about pain or discomfort that are unexplained. A child may also take on habits that have long since been discarded, such as thumb-sucking. Some abused kids will even avoid physical contact with others, such as hugs from family. While these signs do not always mean a child is being abused, any sudden changes to a child’s demeanor should be investigated further. 

Talk to the child one-on-one 

First and foremost, make sure the child feels safe. Choose a time and a place where a child can feel secure, and try to have the talk one-on-one. Keep an even, unemotional tone during the talk. If you become angry or upset, the child might shut down and cease providing information. Allow the child to have his or her say. Do not interrupt and do not lead the conversation, just ask questions and follow-up when needed. Most importantly, make sure the child knows that he or she is not in trouble and that your questions are coming from a place of love and concern. 

Report the issue to the authorities 

While mandatory reporting laws vary from state to state, it is your ethical and moral duty to report suspicions of child sexual abuse to the proper local authorities. Before reporting, make sure the child understands that you are going to speak to someone else for help. You can also feel free to reach out to the child’s parents, provided they are not implicated in the abuse. If there are concerns about the child’s immediate safety, which is usually the case then a child is being abused within their own home, make sure these are clearly communicated to the authorities when making your report.