Oh, how I wish we didn't need to know these kinds of things! But no family and no child is immune to this kind of abuse. Please read Lyneta's words and share it with others who need to know. And like Lyneta, I hope you never have to say these things to your child.
Last week, I shared some ways to talk to children about preventing sexual abuse and our duty as parents to protect them. But the sad fact is, no matter how diligent we are, some parents are faced with helping our children heal and recover after the damage is already done.
When I finally got the courage to tell my husband how I was traumatized as a child, and how dismissive and insensitive my caregivers were, he said, “It sounds like you could have healed a lot faster if you’d been heard and validated.”
Our response as parents makes all the difference in healing and restoration after a child is violated. If we’re not careful, we can unwittingly re-violate them by saying the wrong things.
Based on my experience, and that of so many others who’ve shared their stories with me, I’d like to offer some helpful, healing ways parents can respond to their children. I hope you never have to learn that someone has violated your child this way; but if you do, here are the three most important things your kids need to hear.
“I believe you.”
Don’t ask, “Are you sure?” or voice any doubt about what they’re saying. They’re already confused and hurting enough without adding to the angst.
Understandably, parents are shocked by the revelation, especially if the perpetrator is someone we trusted—a friend, a relative, a teacher. Our gut reaction is to instantly reject the notion.
We often think of pedophiles as strangers who lurk near parks, waiting for a chance to snatch up their next victim. But most of the time (93%), perpetrators of sexual abuse are either friends or relatives. They’re often charming and kindhearted, seemingly trustworthy people. Predators look for an easy mark—a compliant child who is eager to please, ideally one starving for love and affection.
Regardless, how our children deal with trauma depends largely on how safe it is to talk with us.
“It’s not your fault.”
Children often internalize trauma, and falsely believe they are to blame for not being able to stop the violation. Typically, a pedophile will spend months, even years, grooming a child to break down boundaries. In their confusion, a child will feel guilty for their participation, even though an adult—who knew exactly what he or she was doing—intentionally manipulated them into inappropriate behavior.
Often, children won’t realize a boundary has been crossed until it’s too late. Emphasize over and over that what happened to them was the bad choice of the perpetrator and that the child did nothing to cause it.
“You’re safe now.”
This may be the hardest part to say, because it means having hard conversations with the perpetrator and the police. A crime has been committed, and therefore must be reported. Difficult as it is, going public is the only way to protect other children from being abused by this person.
I’ve heard horror stories of abuse victims having to attend family functions or social gatherings with their abuser. Being expected to pretend like everything is fine tells a child that keeping appearances is more important than their well-being.
The consequences of abuse often result in upsetting family dynamics for months and even years to come. Whatever the fallout, constantly assure your child that they are not to blame, and you’re there to back them up. Any jail time, rifts in the extended family, or other repercussions are solely the responsibility of the perpetrator.
Jehovah-Rapha, Our Great Healer
As devastating as the situation is, the fastest way to healing for your child is to point them to the Great Physician. Here’s a promise I clung to when I finally dealt with my painful past as an adult:
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. –Psalm 147:3
Survivors can recover and thrive with supportive parents, counseling, and the assurance that Jesus sees them, loves them, and has a purpose for their lives.
3 right things to say to the child who has experienced sexual abuse. (Even as I pray we never have to say them.) An #IntentionalParenting guest post from @LynetaS, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
Have you counseled children toward recovery in this area? Even if you haven’t, anything to add or any questions you’d like to ask? Please use the comments below to help us all grow. I’ll make sure Lyneta sees them.
Lyneta Smith is the author of Curtain Call: A Memoir. She writes and speaks to help others move from trauma to triumph by trusting God with their stories. She and her husband are (mostly) happy empty-nesters who live near Nashville, TN. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her spending time with her adult daughters or chatting with friends at the local coffee shop.