There are a handful of reasons why children suffering from abuse choose not to tell anyone. Many are made to feel shame. Others are convinced they are to blame, especially if they made any mistakes or broke any rules along the way. Perhaps they walked home alone instead of waiting for friends, or maybe they took a ride from someone without permission.
Some children may feel like nobody will believe them or they may fear retaliation. I can only imagine how my daughter would react if someone threatened to kill her mommy and daddy if she didn’t keep quiet. I am quickly realizing that I need to have some new and important talks with my kids.
What We Can Do To Help Our Children
We can’t control perpetrator behavior, but we can limit access to our children and minimize the risks. Here is what we can teach the children in our lives:
1. No matter what, kids have the right to share with us if something makes them feel sad, scared, or unsafe. No matter what. We need to then be true to our word and show our children, students, and little loved ones that we are willing to listen when they want to confide in us about anything and everything.
2. Our kids have the right to say “NO” and self-protect. If kids resist a predator in any way (verbal, body language, running, telling), their vulnerability decreases by 50%.
3. Our children have the right to tell us if something bad happens. The moment a child reveals an abuse can be the moment (s)he begins to heal. If a child opens up to you about an abusive matter, there are recommended steps to follow:
A. Stay calm (even though you won’t feel calm) so the child does not internalize your reaction.
B. Reassure the child that it is not his/her fault, (s)he is not to blame, and you believe him/her (even if you don’t *). There is nothing a child can do, no mistake (s)he can make, to warrant abuse. Perpetrators choose whom to violate.
C. Give positive, brief messages such as, “I’m proud of you.” Authorities ask that we don’t say too much or ask too much, which can interfere with an investigation.
D. Call the authorities. Do not contact or confront the perpetrator.
E. Get the child a medical exam. Children’s Hospital is an excellent resource. Do not allow the child to eat, drink, shower, or change clothes in case there is any residual evidence of an assault.
* A Note About Children Lying
Though we know it is human nature to embellish, tell stories, and fib, I’ve come to understand that children do not lie about being abused. More typically, children will try to convince you that nothing is wrong, tending to protect their abuser. Kids don’t, and shouldn’t, have the knowledge to make up the details of sexual abuse.
Though children are naturally vulnerable, we can reduce their vulnerability. Tomorrow’s installment of “Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving” will address ways to decrease vulnerability.