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Children who disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult rather than a parent. Become an advocate by knowing how to respond.

Disclosure of sexual abuse

We need to know how to respond when a child discloses that they have been or are being abused. Child sex abuse knows no boundaries nor does it stop at any economic or status level. It happens in families, churches, and other community groups and organizations. We all need to be on the watch and to be ready to help, as strong, appropriate responses will help the child feel safe again and help them go forward to start the healing process.


When a child discloses to you, you have a very important job. The child trusts you and will be looking to you to help them. Please follow these important steps:

Deliberately remain calm and control your emotions. Children will often shut down and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively. It is very important that you don't frighten the child by your reaction! Concentrate on the immediate needs of the child.


Tell the child the abuse was not their fault! Let them know you really care about them. Reassure the child and thank them for telling you. Take this very seriously as the child may have been keeping the abuse a secret for a very long time. 


Show them you are ready to help by remaining calm. Assure the child that you can keep a secret as long as they are not in danger.  And use phrases like:

        "I'm glad you told me"

        "It wasn't your fault"

        "I feel sad/angry this has happened to you"

        "I will work to keep you safe"


Write down the entire conversation including dates, and capture the childs exact words as closely as possible.


Do not ask questions. Law enforcement officials and detectives ask you NOT TO QUESTION THE CHILD because it may compromise the investigation, hinder them from being able to remove the child from a dangerous situation, or compromise the possible prosecution of the offender. 


Things not to do:

•   Do not ask the child why they didn't say no or tell someone sooner

•   Do not alert the person the child has talked about

•   Do not talk about your own abuse

•   Do not urge the child to forget it

•   Do not make promises you cannot keep


Explain to the child that other grown ups need to know and you will find the helper adults who

can help them.


If the child tells you they are being hurt, you must report it, and the child needs to know you will be reporting it.


Its appropriate to tell the police or Child Protective Services but -  IT IS NOT ADVISABLE TO TELL ANYONE ELSE. It is difficult to know exactly who might be involved and who might go to the suspect and tell them about the disclosure. This could result in evidence being destroyed, preparing an alibi, retaliating, or someone else being harmed. Protecting the integrity of the investigation is vital!


Keep sexual abuse disclosures confidential.

Refuse to talk about them with others in your church or organization that absolutely don't need to know.

Stop any gossip to protect those involved!

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