It is common for survivors of sexual abuse to not want to talk to their parents or caregivers about it, for fear of their reaction, not wanting to upset the family, or a desire to ‘forget’ about it’ and return to normality. And as a caregiver, it is an equally common reaction for you to want to know the details of what has happened to your daughter.
Hearing your daughter has been sexually abused can bring forward a range of responses: shock, anger, confusion, denial, fear and powerlessness. As a parent though, you have a significant influence on your daughter’s journey as your reactions and medicine for all management of the post-disclosure period will have a huge impact. She may watch how you respond and change the way she is coping, depending on how you react.
Part of your role is to navigate your family through this period and cushion the impact of the experience. However, no matter how well you take up this role, there’s no guarantee of how smooth the path ahead may be. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Although we suggest you process your personal responses away from your daughter, totally hiding your feelings and vulnerabilities may give the impression that what’s happened is not important or even that you don’t care.
Your first response (and an understandable parental reaction) is that you will want to know the whole story and all the details of what has happened, but your daughter may not be ready or able to talk with you yet. She may even want to protect you from the details, or feel she is to blame. Be careful not to pressure her, even if you feel there are information blanks, as it may cause a retreat or closing down, or even a retraction of the disclosure.
Try not to make too many changes or new rules – she probably wants life to go back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible. Allow her to go places she would have been allowed to go before, as long as she is safe. Sometimes the fear of doing more harm makes parents step back from their normal parenting style, but young people still need you to protect and guide them, to keep the boundaries. You can be understanding of why she is acting the way she is, but she will still need to know when her behaviour is unacceptable and incur an appropriate consequence.
Here’s what some of our youth survivors have to say:
“You tell because you want things to change – it’s got to be worth it.”
“My family’s response was so important to me. They’re not going to go away – they’re not like friends. You have to be around them for the rest of your life.”
“I just didn’t think they would believe me. I thought they knew and didn’t care. Believing me showed me they cared for me. It was important to feel believed straight away… a relief!”
“People say just get over it… they don’t know what you have been through… what you have had to lose. Hearing people say that …makes it worse.”
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