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Child sexual abuse is a major problem in the United States. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), child protective services substantiates, or finds evidence of, a claim of child sexual abuse reported every 73 seconds. The statistics related to child sexual abuse in the United States are heartbreaking. Parents who discover that their child has been sexually abused often blame themselves for what happened. This is especially the case when the parent knows the perpetrator of their child’s abuse.
Parents of child sexual abuse victims should know that feeling strong emotions in the aftermath of discovering that their child has been abused is perfectly normal. Here, we want to talk about how to manage these feelings.
Parents and guardians of a child who has been sexually abused may blame many people. This includes the perpetrator of the abuse, anyone who did not take action to stop the abuse, the justice system, or even the child who has been abused. However, parents of the abused child most often blame themselves. Some of the most common trains of thought are:
Once a parent recognizes that blame arises in their emotions after a child sexual abuse incident, they can “Redirect Blame to Appropriate Responsibility” (ReBAR). This method could be accomplished through four steps, and it will go a long way towards helping the parent and the victim of sexual abuse.
It is important that parents and guardians explore all emotions they are feeling after discovering that their child has been the victim of sexual abuse. Though it is not as commonly talked about, parents can also experience symptoms of PTSD. In some cases, the parent may also have traumatic histories of their own that influence how they react. Parents can talk to therapists or even close friends as they explore what they are feeling.
Blame can distort the way we think, and this distortion could be enhanced by many myths we learn about child sexual abuse, such as untruths that:
It can help parents to look towards specific factors that led to the sexual abuse situation and consider how responsibility for each person can be reasonably allotted. For example, a parent may blame themselves and think they are a horrible person if their child is sexually abused by a coach. In reality, a parent may have hired that coach because they came highly recommended and had no way of knowing that the coach was untrustworthy. Redirecting thinking by looking at who is truly responsible is an important step.
If a parent did indeed make a mistake that increased their child’s risk of sexual abuse (unrestricted internet access, allowing a live-in partner, etc.), the best thing they can do is take accountability for what they did and make restitution to their child as best they can. Though the healing process may take time, it is possible. It is important to remember that the ultimate responsibility for any instance of sexual abuse rests on the perpetrator of the abuse, not a parent who made a mistake.
Children who survive sexual abuse can reach the same level of healthy adjustment as they grow up as those who have never experienced abuse. However, this will take time and patience. Parents of child sexual abuse victims should seek counseling for their child and maintain an open dialogue about what happened. Most of all, my parents should always believe their child and never blame them for what happened