7 Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure

Child Climbing


Have you ever taken a moment to consider, “What would I do if a child told me he/she was being abused?”

That real-life scenario plays itself out daily in places such as homes, schools, day care centers and after-school programs. In 2013, nearly 295,000 children were interviewed at Child Advocacy Centers around the country. That means, nearly 800 children each day were suspected victims of abuse. And those are just the reported cases…most children do NOT disclose abuse right away, if at all.

The problem of child abuse is widespread. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 children are victims of sexual abuse. While it’s often hard to believe, the majority of child abusers and molesters are people known to you or the child.

    • Over 90% of abused children know, love or trust their abusers. An abuser is most likely NOT a stranger, but is instead someone in the child’s or family’s ‘circle of trust’: a caretaker, friend, family member, coach or someone providing the child’s basic needs (i.e., food, shelter, clothing, etc.).
    • Sadly, nearly 30% of child sexual abuse is committed by a family member. The younger the victim, the more likely the perpetrator is a family member:
      • Under 6 years of age, 50% of perpetrators were family members.
      • Ages 12-17, 23% were family members. (Snyder 2000).

7 Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure

There are right… and wrong… ways to respond if a child discloses abuse to you. Follow these 7 steps to help protect that child from further abuse and begin the healing process:

1) If you are unsure, but suspect a child is being abused, talk with that child in a comfortable setting.  Do not directly ask the child if he is being abused, but rather inquire if he is worried, if something is bothering him or if he feels unsafe in some way. Keep your questions open-ended… you can ask if something has happened to him but DO NOT ask him directly if he is being abused. Allow him to offer that information to you, but do not berate or lead him to that conclusion. This becomes vitally important in the course of any subsequent investigations that may be conducted by law enforcement.

2) If a child confirms he is being abused, do 2 things:

  1. Take a deep breath and remain calm; and
  2. BELIEVE him! The truth will come out in the end, but this is an IMPORTANT POINT. Tremendous damage can be done to children when they disclose abuse to a trusted party and that person reacts with doubt, suspicion or defiance. This often becomes difficult because most abusers are KNOWN to the child or to the child’s family… only 10% are strangers.

3) Collect some details from the child, but avoid having him share too many specifics with you — that should be explored later, ideally with a trained child forensic interviewer. Do, though, ask him to tell you:

  1. Who did it?
  2. What happened? (Again, gather general detail, but DO NOT have him share with you too many specifics.)
  3. Where did it happen?
  4. When did it happen?

4) Make sure the accused perpetrator has NO access to the child! If the accused perpetrator is in the same location as the child (e.g., at home, school, etc.), immediately remove the child from the premises.

5) Immediately contact your local Child Protective Services Department or law enforcement. Hopefully, you live in an area with a Child Advocacy Center where the child can be interviewed about the alleged abuse in a safe, neutral, child-friendly environment. You can also contact the National Child Abuse Hotline and they will connect you with officials in your area.

6) Insist on a “wellness exam” by a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) medical professional. These specially trained doctors and nurses conduct physical exams of children who are alleged victims of sexual or physical abuse in a non-threatening, child-friendly manner and environment. They are uniquely trained to conduct forensic examinations and determine the presence or absence of signs of abuse. I can’t emphasize this enough… please don’t take the child to his pediatrician unless that pediatrician is SART certified. Work through your local Child Advocacy Center or law enforcement to connect with a SART professional.

7) Ensure the child has proper professional follow-up with a victims’ advocate or therapist. This is essential! Abuse can leave lifelong scars and impact the child’s emotional and psychological development. It’s imperative to ensure he has access to the professional support and counseling he needs for as long as he needs it.

While it can rattle even the strongest person to the core, responding responsibly when a child discloses abuse is crucial. That child’s life may literally be placed in your hands. In many states, anyone who suspects or has knowledge that a child is being abused or neglected is a mandated reporter. To learn more about mandated reporting in your area, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

You can do it — be there for the child, regardless of who the alleged perpetrator is, and absolutely 100% of the time, report that abuse following the steps above. Your action (or inaction) will reinforce with that child whether or not he is worthy of protection.

About Ginger

Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website, “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids” at gingerkadlec.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.

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