What to do if a Child Tells about Sexual or Severe Physical Abuse

Learning that a child may have been abused can be very upsetting. It is suggested that adults act in these ways:

  • No one wants to believe that any child has been a victim; however, believe the child because children seldom make up stories about sexual abuse. If the report does turn out to be false or exaggerated, the child may have a serious problem that requires attention.
  • Encourage the child to talk freely, but do not “put words in their mouth”. Do not deny the problem. Do not make judgmental comments and never blame, punish, or embarrass the child.
  • It is very important that you stay calm on the outside. Feelings of guilt, denial, anger, and/or confusion are normal reactions to have; however, if you have a strong reaction to a child’s report, the child may be unwilling to talk any further about this with you, the police, or a counselor. Also, a strong reaction from you may cause them to withdraw or may increase feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt.
  • Tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the abuse. Most children, trying to make sense out of the abuse, believe that somehow they caused it or should have been able to stop it.
  • Offer to protect the child and promise to do your best to stop the abuse. Let the child know that telling you was the right thing to do. Do not promise not to tell.
  • Do not express shock or criticize the child’s family. Be available to listen and remember to respect a child’s right to privacy. Be careful not to Boy on piggybackdiscuss the incident in front of people who do not need to know what happened.
  • Do not ask the child a lot of questions about what happened. A forensic interviewer, local law enforcement or children’s protective services worker are professionally trained to ask such questions.
  • Report any suspicion or information you may have about child sexual or physical abuse to Children’s Protective Services. Reporting is important because it lets children know they are believed. It also lets them know that they are not responsible for what happened and that they are victims of a crime.
    Children’s Protective Services of Michigan’s Department of Human Services
    Midland County – 1509 Washington, Suite A, Midland, MI 48641
    Day Time: 989-835-7303
    After Hours: 1-800-322-4822 
  • Get professional help. Feel free to contact Shelterhouse at 877-216-6383 to schedule a counseling appointment for your child.

What Happens after a Child Tells about Sexual Abuse

After a report of child sexual abuse is made, one of these two things will happen:

  • If a child has been abused by an adult who does not live in the home, or by a juvenile or sibling, then the case will most likely be given to a Law Enforcement Officer for further investigation.
  • If a child has been abused by a parent or other adult caregiver who lives in the home, then the case will most likely be given to a Law Enforcement Officer and a Children’s Protective Services Case Worker for further investigation.

The safety of a child is the most important factor. If the offender lives in the home and refuses to leave or if the non-offending parent/caregiver is not able to protect the child, the child may be temporarily removed from the home and placed in a safe setting.

After the case is reported to Law Enforcement or Children’s Protective Services, a forensic interview will be set up at Safe & Sound Child Advocacy Center.  This is the beginning of the investigation. Once the interview has taken place, Law Enforcement will investigate further and write a report and send it to the Prosecutor’s Office. It is up to the Prosecutor’s Office to decide whether or not criminal charges will be filed. You will be notified by the Prosecutor’s Office if charges are going to be filed.  Crisis counselors at Safe & Sound Child Advocacy Center will be available to assist you in understanding and coping with this investigative and legal process.

What to Say and Do for a Child after the Abuse is Reported

  • Provide love, safety, and a stable home life.
  • Make sure the child knows the abuse is not his or her fault.Girl with Teddy Bear
  • Let the child know it is okay to cry or be mad about it.
  • Let the child know that talking with the interviewer was the right thing to do.
  • Do not quiz or keep questioning the child about the interview or abuse. Any questions you have should be asked of the Caseworker or Law Enforcement Officer.
  • If the child does not ask questions or bring up the issue, it is best that you also do not bring up the issue or ask questions.
  • Keep the child away from the suspect.
  • Do not share your feelings of frustration or helplessness with the child. Instead, talk to someone you trust and/or find help for yourself. You do not need to handle this all alone.
  • Do not tell the child that the forensic interview at Safe & Sound Child Advocacy Center is the end of the legal process. It is possible that your child will be interviewed again and may be asked to testify in court.  (It is best to wait until you have been notified by the Prosecutor’s Office about testifying, before telling your child that this is a possibility.  Many of these cases never require this step, and telling your child prematurely could cause unnecessary stress.)
  • If there are other children and families involved in the investigation, avoid discussing the case with them. It may damage all the cases involved if the cases end up going to court.
  • Protect the child’s privacy. Neither you nor the child needs to share any information about the abuse with anyone except for Law Enforcement, the Prosecutor, Children’s Protective Services Caseworkers, the Forensic Interviewer and the Safe & Sound Child Advocacy Center staff.
  • The single most important factor in helping a child recover is the strong support of his or her parent and/or caregiver.