Parents may think a child is lying if they talk about sexual abuse, especially if it involves someone the family trusts. Children can make up stories about many things but they rarely make up stories or lie about sexual matters.
If a child tells you someone is harming them:
- listen to them. It takes a lot of courage for a child to tell about the abuse.
- stay calm. They may be afraid to say more if you show you are shocked or upset
- do not ask lots of questions. Let them tell you in their own words
- make sure the child is safe and let them know you will do your best to stop them being harmed
Take action if a child tells you someone is harming them. You may be the only person they tell. It is important that the abuse stops. They can help you work out what to do. They are required to keep your details confidential. The victim needs to be safe and the offending child needs help to stop the behavior.
Children exposed to sexual abuse often change how they behave. They may have physical signs or they may act in ways that are not usual for them. They might:
- seem to know more about sex than is usual for their age
- do drawings which show sexual body parts or being hurt by others
- get upset or scared when people talk about bodies or sex
- hurt themselves or take big risks
- have sleep problems and nightmares
- have problems at school or not want to go
Other things can also cause some of these behaviors in your child’s life. If your child is showing problem sexual behavior, you need to act straight away and seek help from professionals. Be careful not to shame your child. Talk with your child often and do not ignore changes that seem out of character.
Sexual abuse has a big impact on a child’s ability to trust adults to keep them safe and to relate to others. They can feel scared, angry or helpless because they cannot control what is happening to them.
Children may need help to deal with the effects of the abuse. As adolescents, they may become sexually active at an earlier age, and take risks. As they become adults, it can affect their intimate relationships and make them feel worthless, anxious and depressed.
Child sexual abuse can be prevented or stopped. Everyone can help make sure children are safe. Certain people must make a report if they suspect child abuse. This applies to doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, police, probation officers, social workers, teachers, family day carers, clergy and those working where services are provided to children, including sports. People in the community can also report their concerns. It is important to do this even if you think it is not your business or you do not want to get involved. You could stop a child being harmed and help a family get support.