The guilt associated with the fact that one's child has been sexually abused is enormous. Usually, in cases of sexual abuse, the perpetrator is someone within the family. The "family member" may not be a blood relative, but could be someone who is considered a trustworthy part of the family, such as a very close friend or a cousin. The discovery that someone you love and trust has sexually abused your child is extremely stressful and can lead to intense feelings of shock, rage, confusion, denial, disbelief and guilt. Dealing with these reactions and helping your child recover from the abuse requires time, strength, and support from your family and professionals. Facing the reality of sexual abuse can be painful. But by ending the secrecy surrounding sexual abuse, you can help your family heal, protect and nurture your child so that he or she can grow into a healthy and successful adult.
When children are abused by adults who are supposed to protect them from harm, their ability to trust and rely on adults is severely affected. Knowing that the abuser is liked by other family members makes it all the more difficult for children to tell others about the abuse. Children who have been abused by a family member are more likely to blame themselves for the abuse than those who are abused by someone outside the family unit. This is true of the parents as well, who may decide against outing the abuser due to the fear of severing filial ties.
After disclosing, parents are often tormented by self-doubt, self-blame, fear of the abuser, and distress over disclosure. Sometimes, in a desperate attempt to restore family peace, they may change their story or even deny that the abuse occurred. Seeking help from a counsellor who specialises in child sexual abuse can help your child and you cope with what has happened. Counselling can reduce the stress and other effects of sexual abuse on your child and you.
Sexual abuse of a child by a trusted adult also puts tremendous strain on other relationships within the family. Some parents may find it hard to believe the abuser could do such a thing, and take sides (or feel pressured to take sides) over who is telling the truth. Always remember that your own child comes first and all other guilt and confusions have to overridden. It is essential that parents have faith and listen to their children in a manner which is unconditional and positive.
If you are a parent whose child has been abused, it can take a great deal of courage to stand up for your child. Some of the challenges you may face include dealing with family members who don't believe the abuse occurred or who continue to maintain their relationship with the abuser. Sometimes there may be a possibility of economic hardship if you are financially dependent on the abuser. Don't let your natural and understandable feelings of confusion override the fact that the perpetrator is always at fault. If, in the heat of your own pain and distress, you start rationalising the abuser's behaviour by telling the child that they imagined it or misunderstood what happened, the child may begin to experience dangerous self-doubt. It is imperative that you acknowledging that your child was the victim. Believing your child means facing the fact that a person you have trusted and loved has betrayed, lied to, and used you and your child. To move forward, you will need to accept that much of what you believed about this person was not true. By letting go of old beliefs, you can help your child heal more fully.
One needs to let go of the Indian mentality of 'log kya kahenge?' (What will people say?) and do whatever it takes to make sure that your child's mental and physical health is restored. Also, do remember that your child is not the only one that is suffering; you and your spouse may also need counselling to come to terms with what happened. A good idea is to arrange for individual therapy sessions by a trained counsellor and group therapy sessions for the family to help them deal with the trauma and handle emotions associated with it. Help is easily available today and must be sought by the parents as soon as they find out about the abuse to help both the child and themselves heal before the abuse becomes a permanent scar on their minds and hearts.