Supporting a child who has been sexually abused

Supporting a child who has been sexually abused

If your child has been sexually abused they'll need your ongoing support. Dr Elly Hanson, clinical psychologist and adviser to CEOP, gives some tips about how best to support them and look after yourself.

Parents text content

Knowing how to support your child reduces the chance they will have long-term difficulties because of abuse. 

Difficulties that may show that your child is struggling because of abuse:

All children are different, but you should be aware of unusual (i.e. not typical for your child) and persistent difficulties such as:

► problems sleeping

► aggressive or highly irritable behaviour

► withdrawal from other people

► low mood (often together with changes in how much they eat, sleep or socialise)

► spacing out

► signs of self-harm

This list doesn’t cover everything. People express distress differently and children express things differently at different ages. These are just some of the more common difficulties.

Difficulties related to abuse can appear at a later point because of certain triggers or realisations.

These things could also mean that your child is struggling to cope with something else, such as stress related to school, friendships or family.

How to respond

If you notice any of these things, it is worth talking to your child, asking about how they are, reminding them of your support and discussing things that might help.

One option is your child or you talking to your GP, who might then refer your child on to a service or counsellor for further support. You could also find out whether there is specialist abuse-related support in your area by contacting The Survivors Trust.

Thinking about you…

Finding out that your child has been abused is a traumatic experience.

It is important for you, as well as for your child and other family members, to make space to ‘process’ how you are feeling about it all, and receive any support you might need. This will help you to support your child effectively. 

Some tips for you

► The main message from lots of research is that there are many different useful ways of coping and moving forward from trauma, but that ‘avoidance’ is often unhelpful. Avoiding thoughts, feelings and parts of life linked to a trauma can be helpful at first, but can lead to the trauma feeling emotionally ‘raw’ for longer.

Talking to someone is often helpful, and this might either be a person or people you feel close to, or a stranger such as a counsellor.

► It can be useful to give yourself planned head space. You may find it helpful to have some thinking time while doing something like going for a walk or a drive. Thinking while trying to sleep is less helpful and in this situation it might be good to plan some time to think during the next day.

► When you feel something difficult (for example, anger, sadness, horror) take time to notice how you feel and express it in a way that helps (for example, talking or writing).

Think back to how you have coped in stressful situations before and what things you did then that could be helpful now.