How to Handle a Child Telling You About Abuse

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The thought of your child being sexually abused or assaulted is a nightmare. Unfortunately, many adults in positions of trust, including coaches, clergy members, and teachers, sexually abuse the children in their charge.

When a child tells a parent or another adult that they have been abused, the adult might not know what to do. Most people do not have a handbook for dealing with childhood sexual abuse. Furthermore, many children will not always directly acknowledge the abuse. In the following article, we look at what steps to take if a child tells you they have been abused.

The compassionate attorneys at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin understand the difficulties and challenges parents and guardians face. Call our law offices at (814) 826-3586 to schedule a confidential appointment and discuss your situation.

Types of Disclosures of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Not every disclosure of child sexual abuse is the same. In many cases, a child will indirectly tell you they have been abused. An indirect disclosure means that the child might not share all the details of the abuse without being prompted or will tell you in a very roundabout way. For example, a child might tell you that their “coach gives private instructions” or tell the story of a friend that is being abused. When disclosure occurs in this fashion, the child hopes that their parent or caregiver will understand their hints.

As a caring and responsible adult, it is crucial to pick up on any clues or signals a child is giving. This might require asking specific questions or allowing the child time to fully acknowledge what occurred.

In a few cases, a child will tell an adult exactly what has happened. It is important to let the child know they are believed. Whether the disclosure is direct or indirect, there are some steps you should follow.

Steps to Take if a Child Tells You They Were Abused

Telling you that they were abused is terribly hard for any child. You should not forget that. It is also hard to hear that a child was a victim of sexual abuse – a common reaction is shock, horror, anger, and disbelief in some situations. No matter what you are feeling at the time, it is important to let the child know that you care for and support them. You also want to be clear that you are ready to provide help. This includes contacting our experienced sexual abuse attorneys to understand your options.

Avoid Denial

Your first reaction might be to deny the possibility of abuse. Certainly, that trusted coach you went to school with is incapable of such a horrendous act. However, do not assume the child has misconstrued appropriate conduct or is lying. It is vital for the child to trust you and for you to let them know you believe them.

Make the Child Feel Safe

As stated above, your first reaction might be horror, shock, or anger. It is crucial not to communicate with the child in a heightened state of agitation. Providing an environment that feels safe needs to be your first priority. The child needs to be confident that you will listen attentively and that they are in a safe place. Let them know that you believe them and will help them. It is also essential to let the child understand that they did nothing wrong.


You should listen more than you talk. When the child is disclosing the abuse is not the time to offer advice or attempt to solve the problem. Also, avoid making assumptions or finishing the child’s sentences. Let them tell you what happened in their way and time. There is no need to push the child.

Listening means not interrogating. You should not ask the child any leading questions. And oddly as it sounds, you should not press for details if the child does not disclose them. This type of behavior could confuse the child and cause them to shut down. The disclosure should continue at the child’s pace.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit for Child Abuse

Once you have been informed of child sexual abuse, you have several options. Depending on the position of the abuser, you could report the allegations to a school, church, or youth athletic organization. If you believe the abuser still has access to children, you should report the allegations to the police or your local child protective services, or a similar agency. You should contact our sexual abuse attorneys to understand your rights.

You might be able to file a civil lawsuit against the predator and the institution or organization that allowed the abuse to occur. In criminal and internal investigations, the victim and their families often play limited roles. However, in a civil lawsuit, the victim and their family take a proactive part in the litigation. This involvement in the case will often bring a sense of closure and justice to the victim and those who also suffered because of the abuse. In cases where an institution or organization could be held accountable, a civil lawsuit could dramatically change the way the organization conducts itself in the future. By holding institutions such as the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, or a school accountable for the action of those in their charge, future abuses could be prevented.

Civil lawsuits are also about seeking compensation for the harm that was caused by the intentional or negligent behavior of the defendant. While money will not heal the wounds of sexual abuse, it could provide the means to pay for necessary medical expenses or psychological therapy. The scars of sexual abuse last a lifetime and often require years of therapy and other treatment. Talking with our sexual abuse attorneys could be one of the steps in finding peace.

Contact Our Compassionate Attorneys if Your Child Was Sexually Abused

A parent, caregiver, or guardian of a child that was sexually abused might feel lost, confused, and angry. It is important to remember that you are there to support the child. By contacting our experienced sexual abuse attorneys, you can find the guidance you need to hold the predator accountable and provide the emotional foundation the child needs. At The Law Office of Andrew Shubin, we understand the difficulties, fears, and frustrations associated with cases of sexual abuse. Our goal is to provide the compassionate assistance victims and their families need, including information regarding supportive services and providing a means to hold the predator accountable. Call (954) 800-7933 to set up a free and confidential appointment.


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