Sexual abuse probably comes closer to your life than you might think. Even if you were not a victim yourself (though many certainly have been), there is a good chance that a sibling, a child, or a good friend of yours has experienced the horrors of sexual abuse. No one expects to discover that anyone, especially a loved one, has been victimized in such a heinous manner. How should you respond if a child or other loved one has been the victim of sexual abuse? I've compiled several dos and don'ts to help you address this most-difficult topic.
Let's begin with the positives. First, listen calmly and without reaction. You will need to reassure the child or loved one that he or she is safe and is allowed to speak out.
Second, go to the authorities. School officials, the police, and the family doctor are all trained in these issues. In most states, the law requires individuals to report cases of child abuse. Whatever your circumstance, do not ignore the outcry or keep it silent.
Third, assure the child or loved one that neither the abuse nor its outcome is his or her fault. Victims of abuse usually carry a heavy weight of guilt. Reinforcing the truth that they need not feel guilty is essential.
Finally, permit the child to talk, but do not force it. Don't give the victim words to say. Let him or her articulate independently. Sometimes a child or loved one will refuse or deny previous statements due to confusion or fear or other painful feelings. You can understand that. But let him or her talk.
Those are the actions you should take. But there are also a few things you should not do.
First, don't panic or overreact when the child talks about the experience. Abused children and loved ones need help. They need support to make it through this difficult time. So, focus on helping them, rather than risk overwhelming them with your emotions or actions.
Second, don't pressure the child to talk or to avoid talking about this kind of abuse. Patiently allow the child or loved one to talk at his or her own pace. Forcing information can be harmful. Furthermore, silencing the individual will not cause him or her to forget.
Third, don't confront the offender in the loved one's presence. That kind of stress may be harmful. This is a job for the authorities. Leave it to them. Let them do the confronting.
Finally, don't blame the child or loved one. Sexual abuse is never the victim's fault. Never.
I pray that these dos and don'ts will help you to confront the issue of sexual abuse as it touches your life. And I pray that the love and care of Jesus Christ might work its way through your life into the lives of those victims of abuse whom you encounter. Only through Jesus will the victims of abuse find true and lasting healing of their pain.