If a child tells you that they are being sexually abused, or that they think they may be experiencing abuse, it is important to take action as soon as possible. Reporting childhood sexual abuse (CSA) can be in “good faith”, meaning that you do not need definitive proof to report potential abuse to the appropriate authorities. For example, if a child comes to you and says that they are being abused, you do not need to ask them for proof, confront the potential abuser to get a confession, or catch the potential perpetrator in the act.
Contacting the authorities
You can contact the authorities based on the child’s words alone, or any suspicions you may have based on behaviors or warning signs you may have witnessed. In any instance, the police can be contacted to report a potential abuse. Additionally, if the potential perpetrator is a caregiver of the child, child protective services (CPS) can be contacted to perform an investigation of the child’s home environment. If you are confused on who to contact you can call any child abuse hotline, such as the National Sexual Assault telephone hotline (800-656-HOPE), the Stop It Now! Hotline (1-888-PREVENT), or the Darkness to Light hotline for childhood sexual abuse (866-FOR-LIGHT). These hotlines will help you find out more information on how and where to report abuse in your area.
If a child discloses a potential abuse to you, it’s important to support and believe them (and let them know directly that you believe them), as well as to act with immediacy. Remind them that you are here for them and are a source of safety. Let them know you are going to work to find them help and to end the situation. It is important to follow through on these promises as soon as possible, to help prevent the child from any further abuse and to get them the help they need, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Children who are being sexually abused may experience many complicated emotions, as well as many physical manifestations of the stress that they have experienced. If left unattended, these can develop into very serious issues later on in life.
It is also important to not get angry with the child and to let them know that this situation is in no way their fault. Childhood sexual abuse is always the fault of the perpetrator, and the child is never to blame. Although you may have extreme feelings of anger, fear, or despair, it is important to separate these from the child, and to not take your emotions out on them. No matter what, when a child confides in you, there are many ways to help and protect them, so long as you take immediate action and believe in their story.1
- When a Child Tells About Sexual Abuse. Parents Protect. https://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/what_to_do_if_a_child_tells_about_abuse.htm. Accessed on January 25, 2018.