The exact number of children who experience sexual abuse is difficult to ascertain, because many cases remain unreported. However, many experts say that the abuse that does get reported is likely much lower than the actual number. According to David Finkelhor, the Crimes Against Children Research Center director, 1 in 20 boys and 1 in 5 girls is a child sex abuse victim. As a member of your community, it is important that you know what to do when you suspect child sex abuse to help a child in need. Here’s how:
Encourage Open Communication.
Children are often threatened by the adults who abuse them. Make sure the child knows they’re safe, and that you can be trusted. Let them know that they can talk about anything that upsets or bothers them. Assure them that you will protect and support them. Avoid negative reactions such as anger, disbelief, or hysterics. What a child wants is a stable adult they can trust during a difficult time.
Report the Incident.
If you are not the parent or guardian, you may want to discuss the problem with the child’s family, such as a parent or an elder family member. If the abuser is a member of the child’s family, you may want to inform a concerned family member who is not involved, provided they have authority over the child.
It is also necessary that the abuse be reported to the proper authorities. Check the reporting agency in your state, or ask for advice from Child Protective Services. You may also call the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline (800.422.4453) for assistance.
Note that a child may be hesitant about reporting the abuse because of fear. However, it is important that you find a way to tell the proper authorities to help the child. Inform the child that help is coming and assure them that they will be safe.
Make Sure the Child is Safe.
The time after you find evidence of the abuse and the time you report it is crucial to the child’s safety and well-being. Before reporting, make sure that the child is in a place that is safe for him and his loved ones. Discuss any issues related to the child’s safety with the authorities, especially if the abuser has made threats. If you have evidence of the abuse, such as photos, videos, or other documents, keep them in a safe place or give them to the authorities.
Provide Continued Support.
You may or may not be involved in the investigation. However, you may call the authorities for follow up depending on the type of relationship you have to the child and the policies of the agency/authority in charge. If you can, provide a supportive role to the child. Certain things may change during this time, particularly in your relationships, but know that by reporting child sex abuse, you are helping keep a child safe. If you are unsure which legal steps to take.