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Sexual Abuse in Families must be dealt with carefully to allow the victim to tell their story » Psychologist, Counselling & Mediation Services

Sexual Abuse in Families

Sexual abuse in families

We tend to think of sexual abuse as something that happens to children at the hands of strangers or people outside the family but research over the past several decades has shown that most sexual abuse happens closer to home.

We also think of sexual abuse as an offence accompanied by violence or threatening behaviour, when the reality is that most offences are committed under the guise of friendship, loving gestures or a shared secret.

Disclosure (Telling) Takes Courage

It’s a lot tougher to talk about sexual abuse that has occurred within the family than at the hands of a stranger.  A disclosure of that nature can go badly if not planned and well supported and that can result in the victim again coming off worse.

It makes sense that a disclosure about sexual abuse within a family frightens family members and that they go through a process that is human but perilous, if they don’t know how to deal with it.

The first tendency in any confronting situation is for the family to deny that anything bad has happened and that might take the form of telling the victim to take it back, or trying to persuade them that it was something else.

If that does not resolve the dissonance caused by a disclosure, family members often get angry and that can be directed at the victim or the perpetrator, or both.  Fear of consequences for the family or the perpetrator can lead family members to minimise what has happened or its effects on the child, or to bargain for secrecy or a solution just within the family.

What if Victim and Perpetrator are Both Children?

If both the victim and the perpetrator are children living within the family while this process unfolds, there is likely to be pressure on both and it can be very unsafe for families to try to resolve these conflicts without outside help.  Yet that is what most families attempt to do.   We think of sexual abuse as happening to children by adults but keep in mind that older siblings are also a large category of sexual offender.

Getting outside help from a knowledgeable person is essential, and just as soon as possible.  If both victim and perpetrator are children, the Department of Community Services Child Safety is a resource that should be engaged and their expertise used on behalf of all family members.

Who will Look After the Family?

If the perpetrator is an adult, other fears come into play.  For instance, how the family will cope with a parent or other adult having to leave the home, whether there will be loss of income, whether there will be a criminal trial and how the leadership of the family will be supported.  Again, this is a point where expert help should be used as soon as possible, to help keep the family well supported.

Stranger Danger

Sometimes a disclosure of sexual abuse by someone outside the family is more likely to be dealt with quicker than instances of sexual abuse in families.  But it’s likely there will still be painful issues for family members to cope with, such as adults not having seen the danger or having done something or failed to do something that might have changed the course of history.

There may be a criminal investigation or trial to go through but most instances of sexual abuse never go to trial, because of the nature of the crime.  Such behaviour is usually carried out secretly, there is seldom reliable evidence and children cannot be expected to remember times or dates, for instance, making them unreliable witnesses.  If several years have gone by, a young child will not be able to offer reliable witness evidence toward a conviction.

What to do if You Receive a Disclosure

If someone wants to ‘tell’ then LISTEN.  With any sexual abuse within families whether the perpetrator is within the family or external to the family, the process of telling or disclosing about the abuse is the same.  Let your child know that you want to hear everything they want to tell you about it.  Stay calm and do not ask a lot of questions.  Prompt the child to tell the story by using simple phrases, such as ‘tell me more’ and ‘what else?’

Assure your child that you will keep them safe now and also get advice from the appropriate people about what to do.  Do not ask your child to help you decide what to do.

Thank your child for coming forward.  If you like, you can tell them that you are not sure what to do but that you know who to ask.

Make sure your child has permission to talk to others if he or she wants to, for instance a teacher or school counsellor.  Your child may want to have the number of the Kids Help Line and a doctor might refer family members to a psychologist under a Mental Health Plan, for ongoing help.  A GP visit is essential where there has been any physical assault on your child and is also advisable to protect your child’s mental health.

Rosalin has many years’ experience helping both children and adult survivors of sexual abuse with personal recovery and dealing with family relationships in the aftermath of a disclosure.

Please contact Rosalin on Ph: 0424 002 640

Or email directly to RosalinPrimrose@gmail.com


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Psychology, Counselling & Mediation Sunshine Coast Ph 0424 002 640

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Rosalin Primrose Psychology Services

Rosalin Primrose

MA , Reg Psych, (FDRP)
  • Medicare Provider No: 4197097T
  • Counselling Psychology Reg No: PSY 0000976237
  • Nationally Accredited Mediator & Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP)
‘Ocean Central’
Suite 18, Level 4
2 Ocean Street

Weekend & telephone appointments available by request

Ph: 0424 002 640

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