Managing the Impact of a Sexual Abuse Accusation on Your Family

Realizing that a close family member is or has been sexually abusing your child can be stressful. It can bring up resentment, anger, shock, and guilt. Knowing how to deal with these feelings while helping your child recover from the abuse is critical. Parents play a pivotal role in helping sexually abused kids heal.

They need to create a space where a child feels loved and safe to communicate their feelings and triggers. Such nurturing environments facilitate healing and strengthen your kid’s ability to deal with adversity. This is only possible if you know how to manage the impact of sexual abuse accusations on your family.

The First Two Steps

The first two steps to take once your child reports or accuses a family member of sexual abuse are:

1. Going for a Medical Examination

A medical examination is necessary to collect evidence if the assault happened within the last five days and determine if your child has developed injuries. At the same time, the doctor administers medication to prevent pregnancy and treat possible sexually transmitted infections. Sometimes the child needs more extensive examination, like a shoulder x-ray anatomy, especially if the perpetrator has been violent. Your child may have developed shoulder pain, and the procedure confirms if they have shoulder conditions like:

  • Broken bones
  • Dislocated shoulder
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Misaligned shoulder joint

2. Reporting the Crime

The hospital is most likely to report the assault to the authorities. Since there’s no statute of limitations for offenses involving sexual assault of children or general sexual assault in Canada the victim can talk to the police immediately or later.

The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledges that victims of such offenses might not be mentally or physically mature to report the crimes until the statute of limitation lapses. As such, the offender can be charged and convicted if the crime occurred decades ago. It’s best to engage a legal practitioner in such scenarios.

How to Manage the Impact of a Sexual Abuse Accusation on Your Family

Sexual abuse of a child by a spouse or other close family member mounts tremendous strain on familial relationships. Some family members may find it challenging to believe the perpetrator could do such a thing, while others develop divided loyalties to the victim and the abuser.

Sometimes one parent puts more effort into addressing the issue than the other, which can create an imbalance. Knowing how to manage the different scenarios is critical.

Manage Your Reactions

You may be shocked, angry, or confused at the disclosure of sexual abuse by a family member. Oftentimes the perpetrator denies the accusations, making you doubtful, especially if the child is grown (an adolescent).

You may wonder why it took long for them to tell you or if they resisted. And if your child has disclosed the abuse to a third party, e.g., an aunt, teacher or friend, you may feel angry, confused, and guilty for not confiding in you.

All such reactions are normal, and you must work through them. It could be the perpetrator threatened your child and bought their silence, causing them to give in to their advances. You can manage your emotions by:

  • Believing your child is the victim and someone you’ve trusted betrayed and used your child
  • Redirecting the anger from your child to the perpetrator
  • Letting go of the betrayal by identifying the actual source of the disloyalty and accepting that what you believed about the person wasn’t true

Establish Safety and Privacy Guidelines for the Family

Sexual abuse victims are susceptible to later abuse, and establishing safety and privacy guidelines goes a long way in keeping them safe at home and away. Victims also develop heightened sensitivities to situations that threaten their safety. Some approaches that may prove helpful include:

  • Be cautious when playing games that need lots of physical contact, e.g., play fighting. They can trigger unpleasant memories of sexual abuse
  • Educate kids on the importance of privacy. They must knock before entering private spaces like the bathroom and bedroom
  • Keep all sexual activity private even when the kids are young
  • Teach the family about age-appropriate boundaries, especially if there’s a history of sexual abuse
  • Supervise the kids during play
  • Create boundaries between kids and adults when hugging, kissing, and touching

Seek Professional Help

Sexual abuse involving family members can be challenging to deal with hence the need for professional help. Counselors, social workers, and therapists help the family cope with the feelings and reactions of the abuse better.

The professionals may also provide guidance in responding to the victim’s difficulties, e.g., by offering suggestions on the best way to talk to them. They may also recommend:

  • Individual therapy: The child may need therapy without the parents to help them talk about their experiences.
  • Group therapy: This intervention helps kids understand themselves because they interact with other children who have been sexually abused.
  • Family therapy: The therapist recommends family therapy to foster communication between parents and children. Parents also learn new skills that help their children develop healthy behavior.

Final Thoughts

Coping with sexual abuse perpetrated by a family member isn’t easy. It needs a collective effort from the non-offending parent, the victim, the authority, the community, and professionals. The non-offending parent needs to create a safe environment for the victim to heal and feel safe again while the authorities charge the perpetrator. Professional counselors and therapists play a pivotal role in the family’s and victim’s healing process.

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