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Concerns of Sexual Abuse

Responding to Concerns of Sexual Abuse

Discovering that a child you care about has been sexually abused can be devastating. You may feel overwhelmed, wondering where to begin on getting help and support for your loved one. The following is a list of steps to take that can give you and your child a sense of empowerment and safety.

How to respond when your child discloses abuse

Remain calm. Overreacting can frighten your child or prevent your child from telling more. Emphasize that your child did the right thing by telling. Say, “I’m glad you told.” “I’m proud of you.” “I believe you.”

Stress that your child is not to blame and relay that your child will not be in trouble for telling. Do not talk negatively about the person of concern in front of your child. If you had a similar experience, such as abuse when you were a child, do not discuss your own history.

Make a report as soon as possible

If your child makes a disclosure about being sexually abused, you can make a report either to the Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Abuse Hotline at 971-673-7112, or to the local law enforcement agency in the town, city, or county where it occurred. You do not need proof to make a report. The hotline screener may give you instructions on next steps.

Seek medical attention, if needed

Children should be medically evaluated by a professional trained in child abuse and neglect, such as the medical providers at the Children’s Center. If your child is having acute pain or has injury in the genital area, immediate medical attention should be sought. Randall Children’s Hospital is the designated hospital for child abuse and neglect for after-hours concerns.

Document what happened

If your child disclosed to you, try to document the conversation. Write down the entire conversation per your memory. Keep in mind to document what questions and statements you made to your child and what your child’s exact words to you were, as much as possible. Only ask additional questions if necessary to ensure your child’s safety. In many cases, additional questions can be deferred to a trained professional.

Ask your child only neutral questions

If you do ask your child additional questions, ask neutral questions such as “What happened?” or “Where did this happen?” It is important to avoid asking leading or suggestive questions (questions which require a “yes” or “no” answer), or engaging in repeated questioning of your child. Do not attempt to video or audio record a disclosure on a recording device.

Protect your child from additional conversations about possible abuse

Do not talk about the abuse concerns to others in front of your child. Talking specifically about the suspected abuse where your child can hear can be overwhelming for your child and may taint any further assessment taking place.

Leave the investigating to the authorities

It is important to let the authorities handle any investigation. Do not confront the person you suspect of abusing your child.

Keep your child safe from the suspect

Be careful about saying “I promise” to your child

It is important that you are seen by your child as a safe and trustworthy person. Even if you make a promise to your child with the best of intentions, it is not always possible to control what will happen.

If you suspect abuse but your child has not disclosed

Tell your child that you are available to talk about any worries s/he may have. Emphasize that your child will not be in trouble for anything s/he tells you.

Read a book together that teaches touching rules and invite your child to respond. Such as: My Body Belongs To Me (for preschoolers), Because It’s My Body or The Bubble Book (for school age children). These products are available on our website, as well as additional recommended readings and printable handouts.

Ask your child only neutral questions. Neutral questions are questions such as “Do you know anyone who has broken the touching rules?” Avoid asking leading or suggestive questions or engaging in repeated questioning.

Seek Counseling

You can set-up counseling for your child. It is important to let your child’s counselor know about your concerns. Read more about the benefits of therapy, how to choose a counselor, and how to set up a counseling appointment.

Get Support for Yourself

Children’s Center can provide family support and referrals to agencies to help both parents and children.

Stay Consistent

It is important that you and your child’s lives stay as “normal” or consistent as possible. The exceptions to this are any changes that need to be made to ensure your child’s safety.

Recognize the Strength in Your Child

Children are remarkably resilient. In fact, children often bounce back more quickly from adverse situations than do adults. If you can recognize the resilience in your child, can provide supportive resources such as counseling should your child need this, and can continue to keep your child safe, the long-term effects of the abuse should be greatly reduced.

Contact Children's Center

Children’s Center is the Child Abuse Intervention Center for Clackamas County. Our goal is to neutrally assess children and support their families when there are concerns for abuse or neglect. We offer families information about abuse and can help direct families to appropriate resources for themselves and their children. Children’s Center intake staff collaborates with families and community partners to discuss if a full assessment at the Center is appropriate and beneficial to the child.