While it is an upsetting experience for an adult when a child discloses sexual abuse, the child’s needs must come first. Appropriate reactions to a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse are critical, as they affect the severity of her/his overall trauma. Action as a parent, guardian, caregiver or teacher to the affected child should above all have the best of their interests and welfare at heart and in mind.
Research shows that a child who feels supported, nurtured and safe when disclosing abuse has the most successful chance of recovery and future adjustment.
A child who has been abused needs to understand that what happened was not her/his fault, and that s/he is not alone.
Why a Child Might Not Tell
A child abuse victim will often delay disclosure or not disclose if s/he:
- Feels s/he will not be believed.
- Has been manipulated and groomed by the offender and feels like a participant in the abuse.
- Has either been threatened with violence, or there is a threat of violence against her/his family, friends, or pets.
- Does not want to lose perceived benefits (e.g. gifts, status or playing time on a sports team, academic recognition).
- Believes that s/he is receiving love and acceptance from the offender.
- Fears judgment.
- Does not think s/he has a safe adult to tell.
- Feels shame and embarrassment.
- Fears her/his life will change dramatically (e.g. loss or breakup of family).
- Does not recognize that s/he has been victimized.
- Has not been believed when disclosing previously.
Don’t immediately conclude that behavioral changes are because of sexual abuse — this is only one of many possibilities
Disclosure is typically more a process than a one-time event.
HOW TO SUPPORT CHILDREN DURING A DISCLOSURE:
What a child needs when disclosing is for you to listen. S/he fears an adult’s reaction as well as not being believed. It takes incredible courage to share such an experience. Listen attentively.
Control Your Reaction
Do not over- or underreact. Be aware of your facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice — the child will be sensitive to your reaction. A child can pick up on differences between what an adult is saying and how s/he is acting. If body language and verbal language do not match, the child will feel confused.
Do Not Correct the Child’s Language
A child who has been sexually abused may use slang or distasteful words for genitals and sexual acts. You should not educate a child about correct terms during a disclosure — doing so could make the child feel judged, and might prevent the child from continuing to disclose. Also, be careful not to repackage what the child is saying or to make assumptions about what has happened.
Take It Seriously
Let the child know that what s/he is telling you is very important to you. Explain to the child that you are going to listen very carefully to what s/he has to share with you.
Praise the Child for Telling
It takes tremendous courage to disclose sexual abuse and a child will often assume responsibility for the abuse. Assure the child that it is not her/his fault, and that s/he did the right thing by disclosing.
Protect the Child and Other Children from Overexposure
Respect the child’s need for privacy and confidentiality, and make sure that no other children are around to hear the child’s disclosure. Only adults who will be directly involved in taking action should be present.
If you have received or encountered a case/disclosure/report online, it is very helpful to share the information with relevant authorities. In this era of social media, news travels fast in a viral manner. To ensure that the relevant people who have the best interests of the child ate heart know the case, please ensure that the child’s face is protected. You can protect the child’s face and details by using a lot of online editing tools.
Show Warmth and Caring
Use a calm voice and get down to the child’s level in order to make eye contact with the child. A child who discloses needs appropriate support and understanding.
Avoid Making Promises
Tell the child that you will take quick action to stop the abuse. Avoid making promises about matters that you have no control over (e.g. “I will make sure the offender goes to jail.”).
Report the Disclosure
If a child discloses an abuse experience or you suspect the child has been abused, immediately notify a child welfare or law enforcement agency. Child Line Kenya operates the National Child Helpline 116, Kenya’s only 24-hour, toll-free telephone and web-based helpline for children. The easiest way of getting in touch with the helpline for children is by dialing 116 from any mobile or landline phone. Calls are always completely free of charge for the caller.