This is part two in a two part series regarding child sexual abuse. Read the first article here.
At Scott & White, the sexual assault forensic nurses, who exam and collect evidence for the hospital’s abuse cases, have seen an increase in cases from 40 to 60 cases a month to 60 to 100 cases in the last six months. And 50 percent of those cases involve children.
The subject of sexual abuse, especially when it involves a child, can be a scary and an uncomfortable subject for both parent and child. Scott & White Forensic Nurse, Sheilah Priori, offers some tips on how to talk to your child and what to do if you suspect they are being abused.
How do you start a conversation with your child about sexual abuse?
Ms. Priori said the first thing to do is choose a time and place where the child feels comfortable.
“Most importantly, do not ask your child about sexual abuse in front of the person you think might be abusing them,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times a child has told me that they tried to tell their mother that [a male in the home] has been touching them and the mother grabs the alleged abuser and confronts the child in front of them.”
That is probably the biggest mistake you can make as a parent, Priori said, because the child is forced to lie and say he or she made it up. The abuser can then use that against the child and say, ‘I told you nobody would believe you.’
The best way to approach the subject is to ask the child if anyone has been touching them in ways that don’t feel okay or that make them feel uncomfortable.
“Sexual abuse is exposing the child to sexuality at a young age. They may not understand what sexuality is and it may feel good to the child,” Ms. Priori said. “So asking your child, ‘has anyone hurt you?’ may be confusing.”
“Most importantly, do not ask your child about sexual abuse in front of the person you think might be abusing them.”
And make sure you are careful of your reaction and facial expressions if the child does open up about possible abuse.
“Kids pick up on this and once they see your reaction—sadness, crying, disbelief—they will not go any further,” she said.
If you are concerned about an aspect of what the child is telling you, follow up with an “I” statement instead of a “you” statement.
Instead of saying, “You (the child) did something/said something that made me worry,” consider saying, “I am concerned because I heard you say that you are not allowed to close the bathroom door.” 1
You want to reassure the child that they are not in trouble and that the abuse is not their fault, even if they participated in the abuse in some way.
What should a parent do if they suspect their child is being abused?
If your child has made an outcry of sexual abuse, it is important not to start interrogating them.
“It is a natural response as a parent to be shocked and want to know all the details,” she said. “But asking questions and probing can become leading, especially when the child is young.”
Allow the child to ask you questions or tell you details. Once the child discloses something concerning to you about sexuality or something they should not know the details of, then simply ask them to tell you more about that.
If you suspect that your child has been sexually abused, then three things need to happen:
- Report the abuse to Child Protective Services or to law enforcement.
- Schedule a medical exam at 254-724-8296 or 254-935-4051.
- Have the child forensically interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center, located at 402 North Main in Belton. For more information call 254-939-2946.
CPS or law enforcement will schedule the exam and the interview at the Children’s Advocacy Center after you have reported the abuse. If you have questions or would like to talk to someone about sexual abuse, contact your child’s primary care provider.
Both sexual and physical abuse victims can also seek help in the emergency department at Scott & White. Forensic nurses like Ms. Priori will help care for the children from trauma to trial, sometimes even testifying in court.
“We do this in hopes that we can prevent future abuse and or death of a child by bringing justice to the patient and their families,” Ms. Priori said.
You can contact the Scott & White forensic nurse examiner at 254-935-4051 or 254-724-8296.
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