You may go through a wide range of emotions in discovering that your child has been abused, including shock, disbelief, anger, and sadness. It is normal to feel conflicted about whose needs to focus on, especially if your child has been abused by another family member. Knowing how to address everyone’s needs can feel overwhelming. Your first priority should be taking care of the abused child’s needs. Your second priority should be securing help for yourself and your family. If the offender is one of your other children, he or she will need help as well.
Remember to counsel in prayer with Heavenly Father and seek the help of the Savior, through His Atonement. The Lord invites us all to come unto Him regardless of our circumstances:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
Your Child’s Needs
Abused children may appear to be fine—and many may even say they are fine. They may act as if the abuse has not impacted them. Children may wish not to share that they have experienced abuse for various reasons. These may include shame, avoidance of pain or trauma, fear that they may get into trouble, fear of the offender, fear of getting other people in trouble, a lack of understanding of what happened or is happening, and the inability to verbalize the experience. It is important to consider that if the offender is someone they know and care about, children might want to protect the offender from consequences. No matter what your child wishes, it is important to do the following as soon as you discover the abuse:
- Take steps to protect the child from further abuse.
- Report the abuse to civil authorities. Be prepared to share information about the offender, your child, and any known information about the abuse. It is common to not have answers to all the questions you may be asked during the report. Cooperate with civil authorities and tell them as much as you know. This will help keep the child safe.
- If a child is being abused by another family member (such as a sibling or parent), removing the offender from the home may be the best option.
Your abused child will need support, understanding, and reassurance that they will be protected. Talk with your child about what will help them feel safe and, as much as possible, provide them with those things. Church leaders, civil authorities, and professional counselors can help you develop appropriate safety measures.
Reassure the child that the abuse is not their fault; being abused is not a sin, and they have no need to repent. Help them to know that they have help and support. If possible, have your child evaluated by a professional counselor who has experience working with abused children. The counselor can assess the impact the abuse has had on your child and provide advice for how to help them heal.
Getting Help for You and Your Family
Remember, you are not responsible if your child was abused by someone else; the only person responsible is the offender. Parents and other family members of children who have been abused may benefit from professional counseling. You can also receive spiritual and emotional support from Church leaders. Make sure you take time to recharge spiritually, emotionally, socially, physically, and intellectually.
Be kind to yourself and to your family members. Discovering that your child has been abused can place strain on family relationships. Continue relationship-building activities with your family members. It is typical for parents to feel that things will never get back to normal. It will take time, but never give up hope. The Savior Jesus Christ, through His Atonement, can help you heal.
If another one of your family members is the offender, you may need to consider removing him or her from the home. While this may feel like the family is being torn apart, the separation is an important step that can lead to the eventual healing of everyone involved. In some situations, family reunification may eventually be possible through help from civil authorities and professional counselors. In other situations, family reunification may not be advised.
Community and Church Resources
(Some of the resources listed below are not created, maintained, or controlled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While these materials are intended to serve as additional resources, the Church does not endorse any content that is not in keeping with its doctrines and teachings.)
- “Why a Child May Sexually Harm Another Child,” Stop It Now!
- “Help for Parents of Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused by Family Members,” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
- “What to Do If Your Child Discloses Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers,” National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
- “Coping with the Shock of Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse: Information for Parents and Caregivers,” National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)