When a child is sexually assaulted or the victim of relationship violence, parents may experience a range of feelings and be unsure about what to do. Below are some suggestions to help you help your child.
Listen and believe your child. Telling a parent about sexual assault can be very frightening for a survivor. Sexual assault is an act of violence that may traumatize the victim. She/he might fear that no one will believer her/him. Believing your child will offer her/him a foundation of support from which to make other decisions.
Allow your child to be in control of her or his healing. This might be the first traumatic event your child experiences. The urge to rescue them or do everything for them is understandable. They likely want your help. However, what you must remember is that sexual assault strips the victim of power and control. Returning power and control to your child is crucial for healing. Offer support, but allow your child to decide what options to take.
Blame the perpetrator, not your child. Your child is not to blame for being victimized. Only the perpetrator is to blame. No matter where she/he was, what she/he was doing, or who she/he was with your child is NOT to blame. The details of the incident matter for helping your child heal, but not for portioning out blame. All of the blame is on the perpetrator. Try not to ask "why?" questions, instead focus on comments and questions that validate and do not minimize their experience such as, "No one deserves to be treated in that way" or "Whatever your feelings are right now, they are valid."
Separate your feelings about your child's victimization from concerns about other issues. If your child is a victim of sexual assault you may learn unexpected details about her or his life. You may find out that she/he drinks alcohol, consumes other drugs, goes to parties or engages in sexual activity. These can be challenging issues for a parent to confront. Support your child’s healing around sexual assault first. Address other issues at a more appropriate time. (Please note, none of these behaviors caused your child’s sexual assault).
Direct your child towards resources and support. Elon provides a number of campus resources for survivors of sexual assault. There are also resources in the local community. Becca Bishopric, Coordinator for Health Promotion – Violence Prevention and Response is available to help your child access appropriate resources. Please let her/him know that she is available in person in Duke 204C, phone at 336-278-5009 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer, you can also seek resources for your child off campus.
Seek support for yourself. Your child’s victimization can cause you and your family stress, anxiety, fear, anger or other psychological and physical symptoms. If you or a member of your family has been the victim of sexual assault in the past this can be an especially difficult time. Seek help to manage your feelings and help you support your child and communicate with your family through this experience.