What should I do now that I've discovered that someone in the family has been coercing my child to participate in sexual acts? Where do I turn for help? As you can imagine, this shocking revelation has sent me reeling.
First, we want you to know that our hearts go out to you in the midst of this nightmarish situation. The emotions you're experiencing are completely normal under the circumstances. We realize how painful and shocking this discovery must be. At the same time, we think it's a good thing that this situation has come to light now rather than later. Perhaps this thought will provide you with some measure of encouragement.
As you probably know, family secrets like this are often covered up for years. When that happens, the victim usually ends up carrying a heavy burden of shame, guilt, and damaged self-esteem into adulthood. As a result, what might have been an isolated incident sometimes becomes a trans-generational "curse." You have an opportunity to break that chain by taking firm, appropriate action.
If your child has already confided in you, you're ahead of the game. If, on the other hand, this information has come to you from some other source, you'll need to sit down and broach the issue with her in a sensitive and caring way. Don't blame or condemn or get angry. Instead, let her know that you're on her side. A child in this situation needs to be assured that someone believes her and is willing to "fight" for her. Ask "safe" questions designed to draw out the details as gently and gradually as possible. Say things like, "I can't tell you how deeply it hurts me to know that this has been happening to you. Who has been doing this to you? For how long? Is it an ongoing situation?"
Once you've reached this stage in the process, help her understand the importance of reporting the abuse to the police and the Department of Social Services. Tell her that keeping a secret like this will only make things worse. It could even have the unintended effect of encouraging a repeat offense or endangering other potential victims. Explain that making the report is an important first step in the direction of taking back control of her own life. It can also be a way to rid herself of an unhealthy "victim" mentality.
It's in the best interests of all concerned that the truth be known. Appropriate action needs to be taken as soon as possible. Depending on her age, your child can make the report herself or you can make it for her. If you, as the parent, are aware that an incident of sexual abuse has taken place, you are legally obligated to make sure that it is brought to the attention of the proper authorities. If you don't follow through, you could become liable to criminal prosecution yourself. For additional guidance, we suggest you contact the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-879-6682.
What your child needs most right now is the comfort and reassurance that come from a strong support network. With this in mind, we'd recommend that you pull in a select group of trusted adult friends: your spouse (unless, of course, he's the perpetrator), a teacher, a school counselor, a pastor, a youth leader, or the parent of a friend. Make sure that they are the kind of people who can come alongside the two of you as you seek to deal with this disturbing situation. It would also be a good idea to help your child make an appointment with a professional counselor. It would be best if this counselor were a licensed Christian therapist specially trained in trauma care. Meanwhile, get your child to a safe place where the abuser won't have access to her while you're addressing the details of the case.
If, as a first step in this direction, you think it might be helpful to speak with a member of our staff, don't hesitate to give Focus on the Family's Counseling department a call (bear in mind that our counselors are obligated to report every case of sexual abuse that is brought to their attention). We can provide you with a list of professional therapists practicing in your area, and our trained Christian counselors would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.